3. Pas de Deux
To my amazement, my thoughts continued to turn towards you throughout that long spring and summer. At times, the visions I beheld in my mind were nearly tangible, and I could scarcely believe that you were many leagues away in distant Estolad and not before me, so real my dreams of you felt. During the nights, my mind was filled with images of you, standing before your men in warrior’s garb, your eyes filled with fire; in the mornings, my body ached for your touch. Never had I been so unsettled by a woman! And you were not even of my kindred – no, you were of the younger Children, a fleeting creature compared to enduring Eldar. Nor were you beautiful. What strange hold did you have on my fëa, that you tormented me so?
I kept remembering that feeling of strength and power I’d sensed inside you, so unlike anything I’d known in any other woman I had met. There were strong women among my people, too – among them my cousins Artanis and Aredhel – but their strength was different somehow, colder and rigid and silent. The strength of stone, hard and unyielding. Your strength was the strength of a supple blade at the completion of its tempering, the metal still glowing cherry-red with the furnace heat. The strength of fire and hot metal, a strength that called out to my Fëanorian heart.
I tried to distract myself with sport and martial exercises, and with the company of women of my own kind, of which I lacked for little; as a grandson of Finwë and the son of the greatest of the Noldor, I was deemed by many a most desirable match. But all my efforts were to no avail. Both the hunt and the arts of war only increased my desire, stirring the very memories I was trying so hard to repress. And after the experience of your company, I found the lovely Elven women of Thargelion even more insipid than before, too quiet and demure and proper to bear. By late autumn, I could bear the torment no longer. Using the pretext of hunting in my younger brothers’ rich gamelands, I rode forth from Thargelion west towards the northern borders of Amrod’s and Amras’s realm, and Estolad.
You proved an elusive quarry. Your people had again reverted to their old ways, living in scattered homesteads, and it took many days of searching before I finally located the small settlement of Haleth, daughter of Haldad. My heart leapt when I at last beheld you, only to sink into despair as you turned to greet me – for in your arms you held an infant.
No! I cried inwardly; aloud, I merely said, "Greetings, my lady. I have been hunting in my brother’s woodlands to the south, and thought I would check to see how your people are faring here in Estolad. I hope my visit is not an inconvenience to you."
"Not at all, my lord," you laughed. "Quite the contrary – I would appreciate your company. Would you like to join me in the garden? We could share news while we sit in comfort in the sun."
"That would please me a great deal, my lady," I replied as I dismounted. As we walked together towards the garden, I looked again at the child resting in your arms; mortals, I had heard, had a shorter pregnancy than my own people, but even so, it seemed to me that this child must have been conceived before my arrival the previous winter. Why did you not tell me you had a mortal lover? I thought in anguish. I have spent months longing for you, and trying desperately to convince myself that you might feel something for me - and now I find that all my hopes were vain, and you have bound yourself to another. I remembered the way I had admired you then, ignorant of your heart-bond to another man, and bitterly derided myself for my foolishness. "Congratulations," I said quietly when I realized you had noticed the direction of my gaze. "After so much sorrow, a new life must be doubly precious – both a sign of hope, and a reminder that life continues despite everything our Enemy inflicts upon us."
"My poor brother’s wife certainly thinks so," you replied. My puzzlement must have been obvious, for you suddenly began to laugh. "You thought… Oh, Caranthir, this is my nephew, not my son!"
And suddenly I found myself laughing too, in relief, and we continued to walk together, side by side, into the small garden you had constructed behind your house.
* * * * * * *
Your household was small - only you, your brother’s widow Meleth and her infant son, and your cousin Forhend and his wife Hiril; now your only living adult male relative, Forhend apparently fancied himself your protector, despite the fact that you so obviously needed none. Although your homestead was located in the safety of peaceful Estolad, you said that your people would regard it as unseemly for you to live without a male guardian, however unnecessary he might be, and so you had no choice but to put up with his presence. The tension between the two of you was unspoken but obvious. It was perhaps fortunate that I did not yet comprehend much of your tongue; I suspect that his blood would have reddened my sword in under a fortnight had I understood the words he addressed to you. As it was, the disapproval in his voice often set my teeth on edge. For all his haughtiness, however, it was obvious who wielded the true power among your people, for when they had a problem to be addressed or a judgement that needed to be rendered it was to you they turned, and not to him. His presence was needed merely for show, to satisfy propriety - and he obviously knew and resented it. Forhend’s wife was no better; from her manner, it was plain that Hiril felt her husband should have been the one in authority in your family, and not you. To Utumno’s deepest pits with propriety - you should have tossed them both out to starve in the woods! I would have - but you were always more charitable than I.
Meleth was young and shy; I doubt she spoke more than a dozen words in all the times I saw her during that hunting season. You said she knew some Sindarin, but she was apparently too frightened or in awe of me to attempt conversation, and so we remained strangers to each other. But from what little I could see, she seemed very fond of you, and you appeared to enjoy her company and that of your very young nephew. I was glad that at least one of your companions brought you happiness.
That autumn, for the first time in my life, I found myself at a complete loss. Always before I had been the pursued - because of my family’s social standing, I had never found it difficult to meet women. Indeed, I had become adept at disentangling myself from unwanted attentions. Now that the situation was reversed and I was the one who desired a closer acquaintance, I had no idea of how to begin. What should I say? I couldn’t even be sure that you would wish friendship with me, much less anything more intimate - outwardly you showed no signs of any particular interest or affection, though you were always pleasant. And when I contemplated revealing my feelings towards you, I remembered that first night we met, and the way you so completely destroyed my presumption with a few well-chosen words. You certainly had no need for male companionship, for you were no meek and simpering thing, too delicate to manage life on your own; certainly you could have wed ere now, had you wished to do so. Who was I to press my suit? Merely an Elf, as opposed to the Men who’d doubtless fruitlessly tried to win your hand - and you’d made it clear that you held my people in no special regard. I, Caranthir son of Fëanor, who’d faced the might of Angband in battle, I who have always been the frankest and most outspoken of my family, found myself completely unnerved by a mere mortal woman. And so I said nothing. I returned to your homestead for a day or two every week, using the excuse of supplying your family with game for the upcoming winter, and gazed upon you with naked longing when your attention was turned elsewhere, and silently derided myself for a fool. And when the winter snows began to fall in earnest, and I was forced to depart for Thargelion, I rode home in despair, and beseeched the Valar to rip this ridiculous infatuation with you from my heart.
I remember that winter as very long, and very miserable.
* * * * * * *
The following spring I again journeyed west, this time travelling on the pretext of visiting my brothers Celegorm and Curufin, who guarded the Pass of Aglon. After spending several weeks in the constant company of my favorite brothers, I was finally able at last to ride forth alone, and once more headed south into Estolad. I felt so torn! My fëa was still tormented by thoughts of you, yet I doubted that I would be able to find the words that had evaded me the previous fall. And a part of me resented you for torturing me so, even though you did so unknowingly. Why did this have to happen to me? Why couldn’t I have fallen under the spell of a woman of my own people, as was natural? I was certain things would have been easier then, for surely I would have seen the answering desire in an elf-maid’s eyes, and that would have given me the courage to loosen my tongue which I lacked when facing your inscrutable mortal gaze. Or so I believed. I was foolish enough then to believe that love should be a simple thing.
You were not much changed. Your nephew, young Haldan, was crawling now, and you seemed to dote on him almost as much as his mother did. Occasionally when I watched you playing with your small nephew, I saw the faintest hint of sorrow darken your eyes. At first, I thought it was sorrow for your brother, who had not lived to see his child born. But when I saw longing in your eyes while you watched him nurse at Meleth’s breast, I slowly realized your grief had a different source; to my surprise, it lay in your own empty arms. For the first time, I began to question why you had never wed. I had assumed it was because you were so complete in yourself; what could any husband bring you that you did not already possess within your own heart? Surely if you had wished for a husband, you would have married before now, for any man would have desired you for your strong and fiery spirit. When I finally learned the answer to my unasked question, I was astounded.
One morning, when I arrived at your homestead from my nearby camp (for I had once again used the excuse of hunting to explain my presence in Estolad, and therefore had to go to the trouble of setting up a hunting camp), I found that you had ridden forth at dawn, escorted by your odious cousin Forhend, to attend a Folkmoot. Disappointed, I prepared to leave, but Meleth, whose Sindarin had steadily improved as her nervousness around me slowly lessened, assured me that you would be returning home in time for the noon meal. I decided to wait in the garden until your return. As I watched your young nephew playing there on the soft grass, I remarked to Meleth that her son was a fine boy, and must be a source of great comfort to her in her grief. Yes, she replied, he was indeed a treasure, and she hoped to bring forth many more children; her new husband would certainly wish a son of his own, and she would like at least one daughter.
"You are married again?" I asked, surprised, for (save in my grandfather’s case) my people give their hearts in marriage only once. "I would not have thought it possible for you to meet and fall in love with another so hard upon the death of your husband Haldar."
"I do not love the man I will be marrying," Meleth confessed, to my astonishment. "I gave my heart to Haldar, and he holds it still. But Avranc is kind, and well-respected among our people, and my son will need a father. And I wish for more children, and do not want to be dependent on the charity of others, as unwed women are. So I will soon marry again."
"But Haleth is not dependent on charity, and she is unwed," I replied.
"Only because she has inherited her father Haldad’s goods; had my husband lived, she would be living in my household under his care, rather than caring for me," Meleth replied. "And such independence as she has is dearly bought, for she will have no children; even if a man could be found who would be willing to marry her now, she is past the age of bearing. No child of her own will comfort her in her dotage; what good will her independence do her then? I have heard she had few suitors in her youth, for she is very plain, and far too outspoken for a woman. And when the young man she desired did not want her and chose another, more comely maiden, she would not accept the suit of any of the older men who were willing to settle for her, claiming she did not love any of them. As if that mattered! I do love Haleth, and it pains me to speak ill of her, but she was foolish. But Haldad doted on her, and would not force her to marry against her will, even though it would have been for her own good. And so she is alone now, and barren. She should have wed," Meleth said emphatically.
I was astonished. Were the men of your people truly so blind, that they could look into your eyes and think you ugly? How could they see only your flesh, and not the spirit that burned within it? And to force a woman to marry a man she did not care for - such a thing was unheard of among my people! Although most of my kind do indeed wed, it is always by mutual consent, and those few among us, both male and female alike, who do not take a mate are not reduced to begging the charity of their kin - they are as respected as any of the Eldar. I had known that the ways of the Aftercomers were doubtless different from those of my own people, but I had not until now realized just how alien they truly were, or how cruel.
"No doubt she would have married, had there been a man in your tribe worthy of her, who saw her as something other than mere breeding stock," I replied icily. "I am glad for Haleth’s sake she never wed - better to be barren and retain her pride than to lower herself to marrying such men as you have described. ‘Settle for her’ indeed - it is she who would have been doing the settling, as you have apparently chosen to do in forsaking love for material gain."
Meleth flushed and looked discomfited, turning away from me; but after a brief moment she again turned and met my angry gaze. "Perhaps I am settling, my lord, but it is the way of things among my people. I do not have Haleth’s pride - but pride will not feed an empty belly, nor fill it with child. I choose as I must, and you have no cause to rebuke me for my decision."
"You are right, Meleth," I conceded as my anger on your behalf began to fade. "I should not have spoken so harshly. You must choose as seems best to you. May you come to find happiness in your choice of husband." Although how that will be possible, I cannot imagine, I thought silently. To break the sudden tension that had risen between us, I began to admire the features of the garden, and Meleth and I chatted casually about flowers and herbs until your arrival. Later that day, shortly before I left to return to my hunting camp, I noticed her looking at me with a pensive expression on her face.
* * * * * * *
It was nearly two weeks before I returned to your homestead. The conversation I had had with Meleth kept echoing in my mind; I was sickened when I thought of you being forced by your father to lie with a man you detested, or being reduced to dependence on your brother for survival, an unwanted burden on his household. You had escaped those fates by only the slimmest of chances; now that both your father and your brother were dead, there was no one left who could chain you against your will, a fact for which I was grateful. You should have been born an Elda, I kept thinking. How can you bear living with such animals? I did not then understand the reasons for your people’s strange ways - nor at that time did I care to, sensing only how badly you must have been hurt by them.
When I finally felt I had regained enough self-control to return, I brought with me a deer that I had shot that morning, intending it as a gift. But to my surprise, your eyes became cold when they spotted the carcass draped across the haunches of my mount, and you said you wished a word with me in private. I assented, and followed you, puzzled, as you led me a short distance away from your homestead. Once we were safely out of earshot of the others, you turned to face me, and I was taken aback by the anger I saw in your eyes.
"Lord Caranthir, I wish you to stop bringing such gifts," you stated firmly. "I do not want them. In fact, I think it best that you cease your visits altogether. You have outworn your welcome in my household."
"What have I done to make you so angry?" I replied, stunned by this unexpected speech. "Have I offended you in some way? I thought – "
"I know what you thought," you replied, hissing in fury. "You thought you could buy my affections with your presents, and then use me as you please to slake your desires; after all, I’m no one you need to respect, just an ugly mortal woman, not a lordly Elf, so what’s the harm in it? But I won’t permit it, do you understand? No one uses me!"
I was literally too shocked to speak. After a long moment, I finally gathered my wits enough to weakly protest, "How could you think such a thing of me? When have I ever treated you disrespectfully?"
"Oh, you’ve been most proper, my lord," you replied in a mocking voice, "and until now I’d believed we were friends. But however blinded I may have been, you did not manage to fool all of my people. And now that the veil has been torn from my eyes, you can no longer fool me. I am ashamed when I think about how easily I let myself be manipulated by you – as if one of your oh-so-proud kind would ever stoop so low as to befriend such a one as me, a lowly mortal! My people may not be so lordly as yours, but we also have our pride – and I’ll see my household starve before I’ll cheapen myself so."
"Who told you such nonsense?" I demanded, feeling a searing rage building up inside me. Whoever it is will die for this, I swear it, I thought in my fury. Suddenly I remembered the odd expression on Meleth’s face, the strange way she’d looked at me following our short conversation during my last visit. "Was it your brother’s foolish wife?"
"Meleth said she saw desire in your eyes, and that was why you came so frequently to my household. The rest was obvious, once I accepted the truth of her observation. Do you deny it?" you challenged, your wrathful expression daring me to deny the truth of your accusations.
I met your angry stare with one of my own, and when our eyes locked, I saw you flinch ever so slightly at the heat you saw in mine. But you did not waver, standing firm, defiant. "No," I replied hotly, "I do not deny that I desire you. I am in love with you, Haleth. I had hoped that perhaps you could come to love me in turn, although I now see that I was mistaken in my belief."
"Do you take me for a fool?" you scoffed. "You are an Elf-lord, perfect and flawless and enduring, and yet you claim you are in love with a mortal, an ugly mortal with greying hair and blotchy skin, who will wither away and die in the space of a heartbeat. You live surrounded by beautiful, immortal women, and you would chose me for your love? Did you truly expect me to believe that?"
"Yes," I replied, more softly now, "because it is true. I am in love with you. Do you truly feel so unworthy of my love, Haleth?"
"Liar," you spat, but now I saw the pain in your eyes. "You are no different from any other man; you prate on about love, but you view women as playthings, to be used and then discarded when a more appealing one becomes available. You see me still unwed though I am fast becoming a hag, and think I must be desperate enough to give in to your attentions, that I might warm your bed while you hunt here in the greenwood; and then when winter comes you will return to your keep in Thargelion and your perfect, pretty Elf-maidens, and toss me aside to pine for you while you sport with them. But I will not be your plaything, Lord Caranthir."
"No, indeed you will not be," I replied. "You will be my wife, for however many years as are given to us to share. Perhaps the men of your people behave so, Haleth, but not mine, for my people bind our hearts when we share our bodies; such dalliances as you portray are not possible for us. And we do not make our choices lightly. Perhaps all you see in yourself is what you described, but I see a spirit that shines so brightly it all but blinds me, a fire to warm my heart. Please Haleth, listen to me! I love you. Don’t throw my love away because you are afraid to be hurt again. I am not that young man who spurned you so long ago."
You hesitated, seemingly searching for words, and I saw the uncertainty in your gaze. Carefully, I reached out to stroke your hair, and at my touch you began to weep soundlessly, tears slowly trickling down your cheeks. "Haleth, oh my love," I murmured softly, and with that you let me draw you into my arms, and I held you tightly while you cried.
When your tears finally slowed, you tried to pull away, seemingly ashamed, but I refused to release you until you at last met my eyes. "I’m sorry, my lord," you whispered; at the sound of those words, I smiled ruefully and shook my head. "You’ve nothing to be sorry for, love. And my name is Caranthir." I went to kiss your cheek, but before I could do so, a great shout arose from your homestead. I heard a voice scream "Haleth!", followed by a series of incomprehensible words. The voice I recognized – it was your cousin’s wife.
At the sound of those words, you pulled away from me again, and this time, startled, I let you go. "It’s your horse," you laughed, "he’s gotten into the vegetable garden and is eating the greens! Come on – we’ve got to catch him." You began to head back to the homestead, pulling on my arm to get me to follow.
"Damn that woman!" I shouted in frustration. "Why doesn’t she simply catch him herself and lead him out?"
"Hiril’s afraid of horses," you replied, and I thought I saw an evil twinkle in your eyes.
"Afraid of horses? I’ve never heard of anything so silly in my life!" I grumbled as we began to jog back towards the homestead. Before we turned the corner that would bring us within sight of the house, I caught your hand again and forced you to stop. "Haleth, I will wait for you beside the oak tree near the storage shed, after sunset. Please, my love, come to me." To my words you gave no reply, and I could not decipher the fleeting expression I saw in your eyes before you turned away again. Sighing, I followed you out into the yard, and the two of us proceeded towards the small garden where my stallion was contentedly grazing on the lettuce, the carcass of the deer still slung across his back, oblivious to the hateful curses your cousin’s wife continued to fling at him.
That night I waited by the oak until the first rays of dawn brightened the eastern sky, but you never came.
* * * * * * *
Each day at dusk I stood under the oak tree, waiting for you, and each morning I left at dawn, disappointed. Once I again rode up to your homestead during the day, but Meleth met me in your place, claiming that you were feeling unwell and not up to company; she was not a skillful liar, for her blushing and stammering gave her away. I took pity on her, though, and departed after giving her the two hares I had caught that morning. After almost a week of waiting I was beginning to despair, but I could not yet bring myself to give up and return alone to Thargelion. I decided that I would continue to hope for two more nights; if you did not come to me by then, I would accept your choice and depart.
Again I stood under the oak tree – by now, I thought sourly, I knew every leaf and twig and crevice in its bark all too intimately, I might be a woods-loving Avari for all the time I’d spent gawking at the thing. The stars were long out, and the waning moon had just begun to rise over the horizon when I finally heard a soft footstep. Instantly my mind snapped out of the idle dream I’d been enjoying to focus on the source of the sound, and I saw you stepping slowly across the dew-covered grass, barefoot, clasping a shawl across your shoulders, eyes casting about as if searching for something. Of course she can’t see me, I’m hidden in the shadows, I realized suddenly; quietly, I stepped out from underneath the spreading branches and into the moonlight, and called out softly, "Haleth!"
At the sound of my voice you froze, and for an instant I thought you might turn and bolt back to the security of your house. Before you could move, I rushed to your side, and then to my surprise you flung your arms around me and clung to me as if you were afraid I’d vanish into the night. "Haleth," I whispered softly into you ear as I returned your fierce embrace with one of my own, "I was afraid that you were never going to come."
"I’m sorry," you whispered back. "I couldn’t make up my mind. I want you so badly, but I’m so afraid…"
"Hush," I replied softly. "There’s no reason to be frightened. I won’t ever abandon you, and I’ll never harm you, Haleth, I promise you that. Let me take you to a place where we can be alone."
"I must be back here before dawn," you insisted; I did not then understand the reason for the fear I saw in your eyes.
"I promise you will be, my love," I murmured, and then led you past the oak tree to where my horse stood patiently waiting. I lifted you up onto his back, then mounted in front of you. "Put your arms around my waist, and hold on tight," I commanded, and then we were off, riding through the moonlit woods towards a small, secluded glen I had discovered during one of my hunts.
The glen was surrounded by a thick mat of shrubbery, leafy and private. A rushing stream with a series of rapids, not quite large enough to call a waterfall, flowed through it. Overhead, the tree branches gave way to the sky. Ulmo’s music and Varda’s stars, I thought, and all around us Yavanna’s gifts; there could be no more perfect place for us to join together in love. I left my stallion at the edge of the clearing where he could graze contentedly on the sweet grass, and taking your hand led you deeper into the grove.
You looked radiant in the moonlight, and the heat in your eyes kindled an answering fire deep inside me. I pulled you to my chest and bending my head slightly, placed my lips onto yours. We stayed locked together for what seemed an eternity, lips pressing and nuzzling, tongues flicking in exploration, my hands running down your back and over your smooth rounded buttocks to press you more closely against me, yours running over my back and shoulders and up into my hair, pulling my head down more firmly against you. When we at last parted, I gasped; quickly, I recited in Quenya the words of the Blessing, calling on the One to witness and look with favor on this union between His Children.
"What did you say?" you asked; as you continued to run your hands over my body, I felt a gathering tightness building in my loins.
"My people ask for Ilúvatar’s blessing before we come together in love for the first time," I replied. A shadow crossed your eyes as you said, "So do mine – usually." But before I could ask you the cause of your pain, your lips met mine again, and I was again transported into bliss.
When we at last parted, the spark in your eyes had grown into a flame, and both of us were trembling and breathing hard. Silently, I reached for the clasps of your dress, and began to unfasten them; when the garments at last fell away and you stepped forth in your nakedness I shivered with desire. Quickly I drew off my own clothing, and the two of us stood frozen for a moment, admiring each other. Then I grasped my cloak and spread it across the dewy grass, and beckoned you into my arms again.
This time, with no clothes to encumber us, we could fondle each other wherever we desired; as we lay together on the cloak you nuzzled my neck and ear while your hand slowly stroked my now-rigid length. I slowly caressed your breasts and buttocks, then began to stroke you between your thighs, pleasuring you with my fingers until I felt you tense and shiver in release before I entered you.
As my member began to penetrate you, I realized in dismay that you were not untouched. What did that callous young man do to you, so long ago? I wondered for an instant, vowing that if he still breathed I would make him pay for the hurt he had inflicted on you. Then I lost myself in the ecstasy of loving you.
Nothing I had ever felt in my life had prepared me for the sensations I was now experiencing. I felt as though the very core of my being was enveloped by your flesh, my fëa merging with your bright flame into one blinding blaze, a single perfect creation, a spark of the Divine fire. We rolled so that you were on top of me, and as I looked up at your face contorted in pleasure, framed by your shimmering hair against the background of the stars, my last coherent thought was, Haleth Elentári. You are my Starkindler. And then I cried out as a great rush of unbearable sensation pushed all conscious thought aside, washed away on an irresistible tide of pleasure.
Afterwards, as we lay together under the stars, limbs intertwined, the cool night breeze caressing our naked skin, I reached inside myself to see if I could feel it. Closing my eyes, I concentrated, feeling for it – yes, it was there. The bond. I could not be sure it would be, for none of my people had ever joined with a mortal before. I opened my eyes again, this time to look into yours, and this time I saw it there, reflected in the darkness of your mortal eyes. "Haleth," I whispered softly, "do you feel it?"
"Feel what?" you asked.
"The link between our fëar," I replied, "The bond between husband and wife."
You closed your eyes for a moment; when you opened them again, they were filled with wonder.
"I told you I would never abandon you, my love; a part of me will always be with you now, and you with me, even when our bodies are apart." I saw the tears begin to pool in your eyes again, and held you close, caressing you, while you quietly wept in joy.
We slept in each other’s arms that night, wrapped together in my cloak to keep the evening chill from you, breathing in the sweetness of each other’s breath, relaxing in the pleasure of each other’s touch. Before the first light of dawn began to break across the sky, I woke you and, as I had promised, returned you to your homestead, promising that I would again meet you under the oak tree that evening.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.