24. Chapter Twenty Three
They took it in turns to carry Cerveth. Here within Lorien it was warmer and the snow fell lightly, but nevertheless they had to stop from time to time to brush it off Celinn's cloak which they had draped over him. Aiglin suggested that Gwirith should work some healing on Cerveth but Haldir refused, saying he had not been cleansed of the energy of the dark tower and might harm Cerveth rather than help him.
They breathed more easily now that they were under the mellyrn, all except Cerveth himself, who struggled to drag each lungful of air into his body.
'Hold fast, Cerveth,' said Haldir, who walked beside him. 'We'll be home soon, and the Lady will ease your suffering.
'And…Falariel…' said Cerveth.
'Surely,' said Haldir. 'Now close your eyes and rest, and the time will pass more quickly.'
He indicated to the others to increase their pace. No-one had to ask why. They walked fast and silently, looking straight ahead, until they were about three leagues from the White Gate, when Haldir called a halt.
'A few minutes' pause, and we'll go all the faster afterwards,' he said, unstoppering his flask and holding it to Cerveth's lips.
But Cerveth couldn't raise his head, and Haldir had to put an arm under his shoulder and lift him while he drank a few drops, most of which spilt out again.
'Haldir,' whispered Cerveth. 'I am…very tired. Maybe I will be…asleep when we reach the gate. Tell the Lady…I am sorry. And Falariel…tell her…'
'You will tell her yourself, Cerveth!' said Aiglin, from beside him.
Cerveth closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them and smiled gently.
'But…if I can't, then tell her…'
They waited to hear what he would say, but his eyes closed again and he fell silent, his breathing very light and shallow.
'By Elbereth,' muttered Haldir. 'Quickly, we must go at once.'
They hoisted up the stretcher again and began to walk, faster than before. An hour passed, then two.
'Haldir, maybe we should make the rite of passing for him,' said Celinn suddenly.
'No,' said Haldir. 'There's no time.'
'But if he passes without it, his ending will be much harder.'
'No!' repeated Haldir harshly. 'There is a chance he may live if we get home in time, and I will not deprive him of it.'
No-one spoke after that. They were very close to the White Gate now, and could see the lights glimmering in the trees within the green wall of Caras Galadhon.
'Hurry,' said Haldir. 'In a moment they will see us and open the gate.'
And indeed the challenge came soon after and Haldir answered it, and then they came round the edge of the green wall and began to walk the last stretch of the road to the gate.
'By the Valar, we are in time,' said Haldir, relieved.
But Cerveth was stirring, his hands clutching the edge of the stretcher as he arched his back, struggling to breathe.
'Speak the words, Haldir,' said Celinn quietly, just beside him.
'I will not.'
'Haldir, he's dying. You can't save him. At least let us ease his passing.'
'No! We're almost there!'
Gently Celinn moved Haldir aside and signalled to Aiglin and Luinil to put down the stretcher. Celinn knelt down beside it and looked into Cerveth's face.
'I'm sorry, my friend. You know we're too late.'
Cerveth no longer had the strength to speak, but slowly he closed his eyes and then opened them again.
'Do you wish me to say the words of passing for you?' said Celinn.
For a moment Cerveth's eyes were full of fear, but then with a great effort, he nodded. Celinn reached out and took his hand.
'In the name of Elbereth the beloved, I loosen the ties that hold you to the earth,' he said, soft and solemn. Cerveth gasped and arched his back again, but Celinn held him tightly by the hand.
'In the name of Manwe her spouse, I release your fea from your hroa, into the hands of Eru, who knows our beginning and our ending.
'In the name of Eru, out of the music of whose thought we are made, I bless the day of your begetting and the day of your ending, and all the days in between.'
Celinn was weeping now, but he continued to speak unwaveringly.
'We look to the day of your return, if it please Mandos to send you back to us, or else to the day after the end of days when we will all be one, in the heart and the mind of Eru.'
Cerveth was breathing more gently now, his head arched backwards and his lips parted, as though he sought every last particle of air that he could find. His hand in Celinn's loosened its hold, and slowly his eyes closed.
One by one the others stooped down and kissed his brow, bidding him farewell.
'Haldir,' said Celinn gently. 'You too.'
Reluctantly Haldir knelt down beside him and looked long into Cerveth's face, then leaned over and kissed him, whispering something Celinn couldn't hear. He stayed on his knees beside Celinn, and they saw Cerveth open his eyes again and look at them in surprise.
'But…I'm home…' he said. 'I can see the gate.' He took in a breath and then let it out slowly, very slowly, and as he did so his eyes closed again, and his hand slipped out of Celinn's. When he had let out the breath they watched him, waiting for him to take the next one, but his chest did not rise, and a moment later his head fell sideways, and his long hair covered his face.
'Cerveth,' said Haldir urgently, laying a hand on his arm.
Celinn sat back on his heels and wiped the tears from his face with both hands, then put his arm round Haldir's shoulders. No-one moved or spoke for a long time afterwards. They felt Cerveth's fea loosening from his hroa, and then spiralling away from them into the air.
'Come, Guardian,' said Celinn at last. 'Let us take him within the gates.'
Haldir raised his head slowly and looked up at him, frowning.
'He's gone, Haldir,' said Celinn.
'We were nearly home,' said Haldir stubbornly.
'Yes,' said Celinn. He put his hand under Haldir's elbow and raised him to his feet, then signalled to Aiglin and Luinil to pick up the stretcher. Gwirith was standing alone a little way off, and Celinn held out his hand to him, but Gwirith turned away without a word.
And so they came into Caras Galadhon, walking up the green lanes until they reached the lawn of the fountain lit by its silver lamps, and there Galadriel was waiting for them, dressed in a cloak of midnight blue.
The healers Helevorn and Tathrenil were there too, and they took Cerveth's body away to the healing house, to wash and prepare him to lay in the earth of Lorien. Aiglin and Luinil went to give the news of his death to Falariel and to Cerveth's kin, so that they would know that they must mourn him and might prepare for the rites. Celinn would have done this as he had promised Cerveth, but Haldir said quietly so that only he could hear,
'Let it wait until later. For now your place is beside Gwirith.'
While all this was happening, Haldir and the others stood before Galadriel, silent and aimless, robbed of the joy of their return. The Lady of the Wood observed them with compassion, seeing their shocked faces and the grey pallor which came from being close to Dol Guldur, and wondered how best to help them. But before she could send for food or healers or anything else, she sensed from somewhere close by a dark discordant energy, and saw that it was coming from Gwirith. Straight away she went to his side.
'What has happened?' she said, touching his shoulder lightly. 'Gwirith, you have…'
Gwirith started at her touch. 'Lady, I beg you, release me from service to Lorien,' he said at once.
The others turned to him slowly, still stunned by the shock of Cerveth's death.
'Gwirith, this is not the moment,' said Haldir.
'I beg you, Lady,' pleaded Gwirith, as though he hadn't heard him.
'This is intolerable,' began Haldir angrily, but Galadriel said,
'Wait awhile, Haldir. There is something here I must understand. How close did you approach the dark tower?'
Haldir sighed. 'Gwirith entered it, Lady, and so did Cerveth.'
'Is that how he came to die?'
'He was wounded when we made our escape, but I believe he was weakened by going inside.'
'Indeed,' said Galadriel. 'And Gwirith carries the same energy. Gwirith, you must be cleansed of it at once. Come up with me to my talan…'
'No!' said Gwirith. 'Let me go, Lady. If I go now, I can reach Imladris before the snows become too heavy.'
'You are going to Imladris? Why?'
'Because there will be no ships from the southern haven until the spring, and I can't stay in Lorien.'
For no more than an instant Galadriel's face registered surprise, but then she looked at him shrewdly, taking in the fever-sweat on his forehead and his bandaged hands.
'Gwirith, you're in pain,' she said. 'This isn't the time to make a journey. Stay at least until you are healed.'
'I can't. Let me go, Lady.'
'And Celinn?' said Galadriel gently. 'Does he consent to release you?'
Gwirith looked at her directly then, his eyes fierce. 'I have asked him, but he refuses. He keeps me bound to him against my will.'
'But it is not his will!' said Celinn desperately. 'He hasn't been himself since we came under the influence of Dol Guldur. And now he has renounced our binding, saying he fears too much for my safety to endure it. I thought he would come back to himself when we returned to Lorien, but even that hasn't helped him, Lady.'
Galadriel pondered his words before speaking.
'Gwirith,' she said at last. 'You have been in one of the most fearful places in Middle Earth, a place where the power of the Dark Lord has imprinted itself on every stone and blade of grass; indeed on the very air that you breathed. No-one can approach so close to this evil and emerge unscathed. You are a healer: you know this. Let me cleanse you of this dark energy. Only then will you be fit to decide whether the choice you are making is wise or foolish.'
Gwirith's shoulders sagged. 'Don't ask me to do this,' he said dully. 'Let me go, and I will be no trouble to any of you.'
Galadriel looked at him closely.
'That is not true. You are under the power of the shadow. I can't release you: you would be a danger to yourself and to others.'
'Then at least let Celinn release me from our binding,' said Gwirith desperately.
Celinn made a strangled sound, immediately cut off.
'Gwirith, how could I…' he began, but Gwirith said bitterly,
'Spare me your protests, Celinn. You would keep me bound to you against my will, and that is against our laws. You must release me, and you know it.'
There was a long silence. Celinn became very pale. Now for the first time Gwirith's demands became real to him, and he knew that he might truly lose him. For a moment his sight blurred and he felt light-headed and strange, but Haldir discreetly took a step closer to him, supporting him with a hand under his elbow. At once the touch strengthened him, and his mind cleared.
'No,' he said firmly. 'I will not consent. I invoke the right to challenge you. You must remain bound to me for one year. Only then will I release you.'
For the first time Gwirith looked straight at Celinn.
'A whole year?' he said soft and vicious. 'You must hate me very much to ask this of me.'
The dagger of Gwirith's words and his piercing look struck Celinn straight in the heart, and at once the pain bloomed in his eyes. He opened his mouth as if to speak but then turned away hopelessly, his shoulders sagging.
'What you ask is intolerable,' said Gwirith, 'but you leave me no choice. In one year I will leave Lorien and go over Sea.'
'If you consent to let me cleanse you from the dark energy of Dol Guldur, then I will accept your terms, Gwirith,' said Galadriel, 'for it is not the custom in Lorien to hold anyone here against their will.'
It was clear from Gwirith's face that he was struggling with the choice he had to make. At last he said,
'So be it,' his voice almost inaudible.
'Very well,' said Galadriel. 'Come to me tomorrow after you have rested, and we will begin.'
Wearily Gwirith saluted her and Haldir, then turned and left without another word. Immediately Galadriel went to Celinn, putting her arm around him.
'You did well, my dear,' she said. 'Now we have some time in which to help him.'
'He will leave me,' said Celinn, his eyes brimming with tears.
'No, Celinn. In truth, he is lost, and knows not what he wants. Keep up your heart, and you will find one another again.'
Celinn stood silent for a long time, gathering his strength. At last he said,
'Thank you, Lady,' and, saluting Haldir, he left them.
Galadriel turned and looked at Haldir.
'Well, my dear, I will not ask you now to tell me all the news from Mirkwood, while your heart is sore and you are weary. But I will say this to you. You have changed, Haldir, and for some reason I am joyful for you.'
Haldir looked away from her piercing regard.
'The embassy went…as well as it could, Lady,' he said. 'At times matters did not go as I would have liked, but there is much you will be interested to hear. Legolas accompanied us, and Cerveth came with us as his escort to save us making the long journey back to the Elvenking's halls after going to the dark tower. He kept up our spirits all the way, and without him Gwirith might not have lived to come home. I'm only sorry that…'
He stopped, unable to go on.
'I'm sure you did everything you could for Cerveth, Guardian,' said Galadriel gently. 'The shadow of Dol Guldur is perilous to all who go near it.'
'He went into the tower,' said Haldir suddenly. 'He followed Gwirith, but then he was carried away too, thinking Thranduil would release him from service and let him come home if…'
He broke off again and looked away, struggling with the grief that threatened to overwhelm him.
'He longed so much to come home,' he said unsteadily at last. 'I wanted to bring him home…'
'And so you have,' said Galadriel.
'But not like this…'
'Haldir,' said Galadriel, taking his arm, 'go to your brothers…'
'I've sent them to Mirkwood with Legolas,' said Haldir.
'With Legolas? He was here? Why did he not come to Caras Galadhon with you?'
'He wanted to get home before the snows became too heavy,' said Haldir, shoving his hands into his cloak and clenching them into fists. The pain of his nails in his palms steadied him, and he looked Galadriel in the face again.
'He did not want to leave his father waiting for news of him for the whole winter.'
Haldir wanted to say more, but suddenly he feared that even speaking Legolas' name again would break the self-control he had worked so hard to achieve since they had parted on the banks of Celebrant. So he stood mute before the Lady of the Wood, feeling her soft but piercing gaze on him, and hoping he could endure it without revealing anything to her. Later when he was calm, then he would explain.
'Haldir,' said Galadriel gently. 'What did Thranduil say when he found out you loved his son?'
Haldir turned sharply to her, the colour draining from his face.
'How did you know?' he demanded. 'Was it…of course, Thranduil sent a messenger…Lady, I would have had you hear it from me rather than from him…'
'Thranduil has sent no messengers to Lorien since Cerveth left us, Haldir. And if you're about to ask whether I saw it in my mirror, you know that I would never use it to intrude upon you or anyone else, even were its visions clear enough to do so. It was much easier than that. It is the way you speak Legolas' name that told me the truth of it, and I've no doubt it would be just as clear to Thranduil.'
Haldir bowed his head and covered his face with his hands. For a long time he was silent, and Galadriel waited patiently for him to compose himself. At last he looked up.
'I've done everything I can to keep this matter private, Lady,' he said calmly, but Galadriel could feel the deep well of emotion behind his words. 'I even broke with Legolas once, so fearful was I that our union would harm Lorien. When you asked me to go to Mirkwood this time, I thought it was over between us, but I was wrong. Thranduil saw how things stood without any prompting from us, and he thought you had sent me to seduce his son, to bind our two realms together through Legolas since the King himself was reluctant to agree to an alliance.'
Galadriel's face changed. Two bright spots of colour bloomed on her cheeks and, crossing to his side, lightly she laid her hand on Haldir's shoulder.
'I'm sorry you had to endure that, Haldir. Thranduil is sensitive to anything that may threaten his realm, and of course he is most suspicious of me and of Lord Celeborn. I suppose you had to use the ritual?'
'It was…a matter of honour, Lady. I had to speak, loathe though I was to do so. I believe Thranduil was beginning to consider the possibility of an alliance, but when he realised Legolas loved me, he told me that no elf of the Galadhrim would ever again be welcome in his realm. However that was before he had withdrawn his harsh words and expressed his regret for the insult to Lorien and to you and Lord Celeborn. I don't know where we stand with him now, but if Lorien's interests have been harmed I'm prepared to take full responsibility for it, and suffer any penalty you wish to impose on me.'
'Why should there be any penalty, Haldir? You have done nothing wrong. Loving someone is not a crime, and I wouldn't wish to add to the burden you already carry. In this matter I'm sure Lord Celeborn would agree with me. I haven't forgotten how it was when we dwelt apart, I in Lorien and he in Eregion, many years ago. I don't know how I endured the pain of it, and I honour you for holding fast to such a love.'
'Lady, it is Legolas who should receive all the honour. As a warrior I may have courage but as a lover...'
His voice faltered and he fell silent. Galadriel reached out and took his hand.
'I know there is nothing I can do to ease the pain of his absence, Haldir, but know that I wish you both the joy of your union. Go and see him whenever you can…'
'Lorien comes first…'
'Of course, but don't deprive yourself of his company or him of yours any more than you need.'
Haldir nodded. 'But by your leave, I would ask that this matter should be kept private between us. Unless Thranduil has spoken of it, no-one in Mirkwood save himself knows of it; and my warriors have consented to say nothing.'
'If that is what you wish, Haldir, although there would be no shame in letting it be known…'
Haldir said nothing, his face set and stubborn. Galadriel sighed deeply, but she nodded to indicate her agreement.
'Well, on the matter of the alliance,' continued Galadriel, 'if you're willing to let the insult to your honour pass, we will do the same for Lorien's sake. I suppose you were able to tell him you have loved the prince for some time?'
'Yes; since the Watchful Peace.'
Galadriel's hand tightened involuntarily on Haldir's.
'By all the Valar, Haldir! So many long years you have carried this alone! How could I have failed to see it for so long?'
'I worked to keep it secret, Lady. I was foolish, and couldn't open my heart to him fully until now. Maybe that's why it was clear to you today for the first time.'
'But why didn't you speak of it before now, Haldir?'
Haldir stood mute before her, looking down at the floor.
'You remembered the old law,' she said. 'The one which says those who can't live together can't bind. But that law was made to prevent a binding being used purely for the disposal of lands, while their owners have more love for power than for one another, and will never live together. That law was never meant to keep apart those such as you and Legolas!'
'It is still the law,' said Haldir. 'We can never offer one another a true binding, not with the world as it is.'
'Haldir, forget the law: bind with him if it brings you both joy!'
'Lady,' said Haldir wearily, 'binding unlawfully will add nothing to what we already have. We know what we are to each other, and in any case, I could not allow my private desires to harm either Lorien or Mirkwood.'
'And is Legolas as self-denying, Haldir?' said Galadriel quietly. 'Is he as politically careful as you are?'
Haldir looked away.
'By your leave, I prefer not to answer that question,' he said.
'I thought not,' said Galadriel. 'Well, Haldir, you are right, this is your affair, and I'm being most unreasonable in making you discuss it with me. But if I may beg leave to speak not as your ruler but as your friend, I would say to you: love him, Haldir, and let politics take care of themselves. Thranduil is as protective of his son as he is of his realm, but I do not believe he would use him as a pawn in his political designs.'
'Maybe so,' said Haldir, heavily. 'You are more sanguine than I, Lady.'
'And you are exhausted and full of grief, Haldir, and I have kept you standing here talking to me. Now, go: eat, sleep. I look forward to hearing more when you have rested.'
'I must arrange the rites for Cerveth…'
'I will see to it,' said Galadriel. 'Go, now, find what comfort you can.'
Haldir bowed and turned away, stepping off the wide platform on to the white steps. When he reached the lawn of the fountain he picked up his pack from where he had left it, and began to walk slowly towards his talan, suddenly free of responsibility for the first time in many months.
It was only a few minutes before the pain of being away from Legolas began, and it grew until he didn't know how he would bear it. Blindly he climbed up the ladder to his talan and dumping his gear on the floor, found the bottle of miruvor he kept in the chest under his bed. He poured himself a large measure and drank it in one mouthful, then flung himself down on his bed without even removing his boots. The tears came then, but they were hard and bitter and did not soothe him. When they had dried he lay cold and hopeless for a long time, wondering how far Legolas and his brothers were from the end of their road, until at last he fell into an exhausted sleep.
Celinn wandered around aimlessly for some time before he could get up the courage to go to the talan he shared with Gwirith. A part of him wanted to avoid doing so altogether, and to go instead to Aiglin and spend the first night home with him. But full of grief and weariness as he was, he forced himself to walk the familiar path into the forest until he came in sight of Gwirith's workshop and their talan in the tree beside it.
He could hear no sound coming from above as he climbed the ladder, but when he stepped on to the platform, the first thing he saw was Gwirith sitting on the bed facing away from him. Celinn stood transfixed, looking at his lover's back and longing to walk across the room and wrap his arms around him; but of course he couldn't do that now, so instead he took a step forward to announce his presence.
Gwirith spun round, his eyes as wild as those of a hunted animal.
'You!' he said bitterly. 'What are you doing here?'
Celinn didn't know what to answer him, so he stood mute and helpless.
'I…don't know...' he said at last.
'You can't stay here,' said Gwirith. 'Take your things and go.'
Celinn's eyes filled with tears, but he wiped them away quickly with the back of his hand.
'If that's what you wish,' he said.
'It is,' said Gwirith, and turned his back on him again.
'Gwirith…' said Celinn, pleading, but Gwirith did not move.
Swallowing down his tears, Celinn began to pick up a few of his belongings, but within a short time the pain of what he was doing threatened to overwhelm him, so he snatched up the harp Gwirith had made him as a binding gift and went to the edge of the talan.
'Gwirith…' he said again, but Gwirith was as still and unresponsive as stone.
Slowly, heavily-laden, Celinn climbed down the ladder and walked away, with no clear idea what to do next. At first the tears he had held back flowed as he walked, but after a while a dead hopelessness filled him, and his tears dried. He found himself at the foot of Aiglin's talan, the one where Celinn had lived with him before his binding to Gwirith, and he let all his gear fall to the ground at the foot of the tree, getting ready to pull the long hithlain rope attached to a bell which would alert Aiglin of his presence.
But just when he was about to do so, he heard Luinil's voice above, and suddenly it seemed impossible to face anyone but his brother. So he loaded himself up again and turned to go deeper into the forest, and after a while came to the talan that had belonged to his naneth. Celinn had lived there when he was estranged from all his friends and kin, two years before. He had not been there since a dark day in the middle of that terrible time, and it gave him little pleasure to return there now. But he had no choice, so he climbed up the ladder, scarcely noticing that some of the rungs had perished, and flung down his things on the floor. The talan was empty except for a bed and a rug on the floor. Celinn lay down on the bed and pulled the rug over him, but although he was half-dead with weariness, sleep eluded him, and he lay cold and hopeless through the long hours of the night, his longing for Gwirith like a chill fire in his gut.
Aiglin and Luinil walked away from Falariel's talan, hearing the sounds of mourning coming from above. They walked in silence for a long time, but at last Aiglin said,
'The Lady will be able to heal Gwirith, won't she?'
'Of course she will,' said Luinil.
'Shall we go and find them?'
'No, let's go and rest. Celinn and Gwirith will go home afterwards, and we'll see them in the morning.'
Aiglin stretched his arms high above his head and gave a jaw-cracking yawn, then picked up his pack and slung it on to his shoulder.
'I can't believe Cerveth is gone,' he said in a small, forlorn voice. 'I thought we would get home in time.'
'He went into the tower, Aiglin. Even the Lady's magic might not have been strong enough to heal him.'
'Then how will she heal Gwirith?'
'He's not wounded,' said Luinil. 'Come, now, let's go to my talan. I have some strong drink.'
'He is wounded: just not in the body, Luinil.'
'She'll know what to do. He'll mend,' said Luinil.
'You're as stubborn as he is,' said Aiglin.
'Yes I am, and you're coming with me.'
He began to walk in the direction of his talan and Aiglin followed him, glad that Luinil had taken charge of him. When they got there Luinil was as good as his word and uncorked a bottle of potent red wine, and they sat at the table and drank it with much laughter and pleasure, and then afterwards were full of tears.
'Well,' said Aiglin, when the bottle was empty. 'I'd better go home.'
Luinil looked at him with soft eyes.
'There's no need,' he said lightly. 'You may keep me company, if you will. After so many nights together it might be lonely to be apart.'
Aiglin laughed, but then he saw that there was more to Luinil's words than he had realised at first.
'Truly you wish me to stay with you?' he said hesitantly.
'Do you need to ask?' said Luinil.
It was a long time before Aiglin answered. At last he said,
'When we were in Mirkwood, you and Celinn…'
He ran out of words, looking helplessly at Luinil.
'Do you still love him, Luinil?' he whispered at last.
Luinil looked down with a deep sigh.
'I think I'll always love him.'
Aiglin made a sound of pain and turned away, but Luinil reached out and laid a hand on his cheek, turning him back to look full at him.
'But I love you more, Aiglin,' he said quietly.
Aiglin's eyes widened with surprise.
'I didn't know it before we went to Dol Guldur,' went on Luinil, 'but after what we've seen these last months, I have come to understand…that I love you very much. Before it was a pleasure to meet you at the festivals, or whenever our bodies called one to the other; but now it's my heart that calls you.'
Still Aiglin looked at him in stupefied silence.
'But I fear you don't feel the same,' said Luinil heavily. 'I know I'm serious like my brother, and you're lively and light-hearted, and don't wish to think of binding with another.' He braced his shoulders then, as if he had found his courage.
'But nevertheless I'm glad I've told you. You may go now, if you wish, and we'll forget all about it, and go back to how we were before.'
Aiglin shook his head hard, as if he were trying to clear some water out of his ears.
'No-one has ever wanted to bind with me before,' he said, incredulous.
Despite the heaviness of his heart, Luinil couldn't prevent himself from smiling at the expression on Aiglin's face.
'Go, then, and I'll see you on the morrow.'
'Go?' said Aiglin. 'Why would I want to do that?'
And he leaned forward and took Luinil's face in his hands and kissed him gently.
Luinil gave a gasp of surprise but straight away he lost himself in the kiss. Aiglin pulled him into his arms.
'Truly you wish us to bind?' he said.
'Yes,' said Luinil. 'But I know you find the idea strange…'
'No,' said Aiglin. 'It might be strange to bind with someone else, but with you it seems quite natural.'
'Truly?' said Luinil.
'Yes, of course, truly,' said Aiglin impatiently. 'When shall we do it?'
'You wish to do it?'
'Yes, I wish to do it! How many times must I say it?'
'But…you said in Mirkwood that you couldn't be constant. And…you said you couldn't bear to have the same partner at every festival night. Aiglin, you'll bind with me, and then you'll come to hate me for keeping you from others.'
Aiglin laughed. 'When was the last time I went with someone else, Luinil?'
'Well, not since Midsummer, when I found out how skilled you are in the arts of love. It would be a difficult task to find anyone to match you.'
'Nevertheless, it's too soon. Let's wait awhile, until we're familiar with the idea. Then if we change our minds, no harm will have been done.'
'You've changed your mind already?' wailed Aiglin.
'No! But I don't want us to be hasty, and then regret it later.'
'Regret it? What do you regret?'
'Nothing! But there's more to this than the skill of the body. Aiglin, I must ask you: is your heart engaged?'
'Are you asking me if I love you? I thought you knew that already.'
'How would I know it, Aiglin? Have you ever said so?'
Aiglin pondered on this for a long moment.
'Have I not, then?'
'No, you haven't.'
'Oh, well then. I love you, Luinil.'
Luinil burst out laughing.
'That's the most touching declaration of affection I've ever heard!' he said.
'What's the matter? What did I say?'
But Luinil was laughing so much that tears began to roll down his face. Aiglin was offended.
'How could you laugh at me, Luinil? You're cruel and unkind,' he said.
'No,' said Luinil, reaching out for him. 'I don't mean to be. I'm sorry, Aiglin.'
'And so you should be,' said Aiglin. 'I do love you, even if I'm not a poet like my brother. I can't sing you fine songs like Celinn can, but my heart is as true as his.'
'I know it,' said Luinil, holding him tightly, but Aiglin was stiff in his arms as a hedgehog with its prickles out.
'Aiglin, forgive me,' said Luinil, wiping his face with one hand. 'I love you too, my dear one. What about Midwinter day?'
'For a binding? It isn't auspicious. What about the day after: the day the sun comes back?'
'Very well, the day after midwinter.'
They looked at each other, amazed to have come so far in so short a time.
'So…you'll stay with me tonight?' said Luinil, teasing a little.
'Only if I can wash. I can't remember the last time I took all my clothes off, and the result is likely to be less than pleasant unless soap and water are put into service.'
So Luinil kindled a fire in the fire-pail and they heated some water, and he found a new cake of soap and some flannels. And then they stripped off their clothes and washed, throwing water at one another like elflings. Luinil scrubbed Aiglin's back and had his scrubbed in return, and they looked at the scars which were left from the wounds they had taken on their journey. And when they were clean and warm, their hands strayed to more intimate parts of the body, and the water was still drying on their skins when they fell on to the bed, limbs tangled together, mouths joined in a kiss.
'I'd forgotten how wonderful it is to be close to you,' gasped Aiglin, as his skin slid against Luinil's.
'I wanted you every day of the journey,' said Luinil breathlessly, nipping Aiglin's shoulder with his teeth.
'Except the days you wanted Celinn…Ow! What was that for?'
'Leave Celinn out of it. It's you I want, Aiglin.'
'Well now you have me…ahh, Luinil, now you have me…'
And in the midst of death and loss, they celebrated life, joining their bodies in love and pleasure. And when their lovemaking was over, they lay in each other's arms and slept, while the snow fell softly outside.
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.