1. Old Friends
Special thanks to STB for pointing out the classical metaphor of the hunt and its uses, and for months of line-by-line dissection.
My source of information on the harvesting and spinning of flax.
"As a light in the darkness is the love of a man and woman for each other, and in that light lies the hope of our people.
So do I bind myself to thee, for as long as my life shall endure. Let the seas rise, let the earth change, let the stars extinguish themselves, I shall not forsake thee."
–Marriage oath, husband to wife, the Angle, Eriador
"Do not bring it home, where your families can see it, where your wife (or your lover's wife) might see it."–The Rule of the Road
Eledhril opened his eyes slowly. Golden sunlight filtered through the curtains that draped the window, muting it to a soft glow that matched the inward glow of weary contentment that suffused his body. Though that contentment lay heavy in his limbs as lethargy, his senses seemed the sharper for it, and he fancied he could feel time slip by moment by moment. Or perhaps that was simply his heart beating? Eledhril blinked his eyes shut once more, then opened them again, feeling his lashes scrape against cloth, feeling the pressure of the mattress all along his side, the texture of coarse woven sheets, and the vague pins and needles numbness in his left arm. There was warmth against him, and the feeling of someone's breath against his chest that tickled slightly; where skin touched skin, he felt the pull of sweat that had dried between them–a sticky feeling that told him they had been here too long. Constant as the light might be, a Ranger's time sense told him that outside, the day was dying–a lovely, warm summer's day that promised a glorious night.
A good day, he thought, and felt his pulse flutter as anxiety began to creep within his breast when from outside, the sounds of children's games drifted:
"Gone between, got between, he's come between the marriage rings. Lies between, lay between, he's put down 'neath the earth so green!"
Eledhril winced then, as a flurry of giggles arose, and the 'lie between' darted off to avoid his fate. Every child in the Angle knew that ditty and the game that went with it, but it was no laughing matter for him today. Even children know the price, he thought. If one were caught and the wronged party desired it, or the offender preferred it to scorn. A Ranger especially might prefer it, for a man whom his fellows could not trust was one for whom death came inevitably, and what point was there in dragging it out? If we are caught...
With an effort, Eledhril shifted his head to bury his face in his lover's hair, arms tightening as he pressed the other to him. What would she say? His wife's image flashed through his mind–Thorondis could look the very hawk when angry, her face a study in severity. Even as a lass she had had those eyes–he had always loved them, loved the spark in them, and thus even the quickness of her temper was a sort of guilty delight when he dared look into her eyes in such moments. Had he married her because of that, anticipating the day when he would need her wrath to hold him in line? Perhaps. But she could not be angry over what she did not know, what she could not know of–not until vows were broken, and where then was restraint?
He wondered if he could face her keen-eyed scrutiny tonight. Would it show? Were there marks? His thighs felt a bit tender along the insides–would she see? Or would she smell it on me? Taste it? Would she hear it in my voice? Would his children, who sang so gleefully heedless without, notice? He did not know. If he would bestir himself to rise and see to the essentials, he might never need to have such questions answered. Yet he could not move. Not yet. There was yet some brief space of time left, and he grasped for it, greedy for a little longer even as he reproached himself for reckless indulgence. But he had not honestly expected to succeed in this, though he had been convinced that he had had to try. At least, he thought he had not expected success–maybe he ought to have known better?
Do not fool yourself, Eledhril, you knew from the moment you saw that look that resolve could not withstand such a testing. 'Tis of no use to ask now, as they say traitors do, 'how did it come to this?' You know why you are here. Why you are both here. Do not pretend otherwise. So spoke conscience at last unfettered, merciless as the scourge. With a soft sigh that ruffled the other's hair, Eledhril shut his eyes again, and let himself drift despite the danger. For despite the risk of being caught, despite the consequences they could not hope to avoid if any suspected them, despite agonizing guilt, he could not leave. And so despite himself, as he held the other close, he found himself asking, How did it come to this?
How, indeed. It had begun last week after supper...
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