26. A Welcome Bath
The Galadhrim buried their dead. They lit fires beneath the huge piles of orc corpses outside of their wooded borders, then most of them set off for the city of the trees to make preparations for the attack they were certain was coming. This first direct assault was to try them, Lord Celeborn suspected; the next would be a greater struggle. They would empty Dol Guldur in their efforts to break the might of Lorien. He knew that, as did his Lady; it was their combined power that kept the Golden Wood safe. Now that power would be sorely put to the test.
He agreed Haldir should lead a party to strengthen the western borders where the elves had been evacuated to the safety of the Wood, and to see what numbers could be spared from the farming garths to defend the eastern border. By this time the orcs had swung around the entire northern edge of Lorien, probing and attacking, firing barns and killing livestock, ever drifting westwards when they were denied easy entry to his land. The next force though, would be more concentrated, designed to punch a hole in their defences… at least, if Celeborn were planning an attack… that is what he would do…
Celeborn was reluctant to have Haldir away from him at such an important time, but as Marchwarden and second only to Lord Celeborn, the task needed his authority to decide which garths should be defended… and which might be left to be over-run and destroyed, for the sake of defending Caras Galadhon. Celeborn could not shy away from the fact – they would be out-numbered, and while he did not doubt the courage and strength of his people to fight until none were left standing, he had seen too many times the terrible power that the Dark Lord could summon to his will. There had been too many defeats to ignore the possibility of another, or at the very least… a victory won with hard sacrifice! But he hated Haldir being away from him and at risk. It was a situation he avoided whenever he could and fretted over when he could not; this time, however, he needed to make judgements and decisions that were free from any emotional resonance. His mind must be clear and his heart unhampered by worries or doubt…
Boromir and Tasarion were in the escort of Lord Celeborn, moving ahead of the main party. The one thing that the man was glad about was escaping the stench of the burning corpses. The foul oily smoke drifted into the trees, and the vile stink made him want to vomit. Lord Celeborn gave him his own scarf to wrap around his nose and mouth before they left; it held the strong, clean scent of bergamot and beneath it the odour of green herbs, wood and earth. Lord Celeborn wrapped another pale grey scarf around his own face, pulled from inside his tunic. Boromir caught a tiny whiff of the familiar perfumes of sandalwood and white flowers – enough to recognise that that scarf must originally have belonged to Haldir.
Almost at the same moment he caught a memory of pushing pale, silky hair that smelt of sweet-wood and white flowers away from a strong neck so that he could kiss a warm upturned throat… and for a moment the power of that flash of desire made his loins jolt in response, before the recollection passed, but he was left with a residual memory of running his fingers through thick, heavy hair - wild with knots from being wind-blown after a day's ride. Tasarion tugged his sleeve and he started guiltily as he became aware of his surroundings once again. The elves strode out of the clearing, Lord Celeborn at their head, and it was his place to go with them now.
They walked fast, travelling virtually without a break, until the mighty trees of the Galadhrim's city came into sight. Boromir kept up with them with encouragement from Tasarion, but it was a hard march for him. The party made an even swifter pace when they reached the smoothness of outer stone road that circled the city to the only bridge crossing the deep fosse surrounding the hill. It was evening by the time they entered the Great Gates, Boromir near to stumbling over his own feet. Lord Celeborn paused to tell Tasarion that the two of them should follow at their own pace now, while he went on ahead. The young elf nodded, and the others sped away. He slowed Boromir to a comfortable walk and after they had climbed half way up the steeply winding path, they stopped for water and for rest.
By the time they had reached the central grove of mellyrn they could see that preparation had already begun – captains and messengers hurried up and down the great stair, grim-faced and urgent. The two climbed slowly and when they reached Celeborn's chamber were met by a chamberlain who told Tasarion that accommodation was ready for them on the flet above in Lord Celeborn's personal quarters and they should wait there; refreshments were already laid ready and beds prepared… then the elf hurried off ahead of them. Tasarion escorted Boromir on up the great encircling flight of stairs, slightly in awe himself as these were spaces he himself had never been invited to enter. The chamberlain leading them was impatient for them to follow more quickly. Boromir was breathing hard when they finally reached the appointed flet; their guide vanished down the stairs immediately on errands of his own.
The room may have been a dressing room previously, screened from the larger rooms next door by finely carved panels of pale wood; scuffs on the polished floor showed other furniture had been removed. Two beds filled much of the space, and a table and two chairs stood at one side by a gracefully arched window. A tray on the table held wine, water and plates of cold meat and vegetables dressed in fragrant savoury oil; at its side, bread and some sweet-cakes lay under a white cloth. The elf urged Boromir to sit and poured him a goblet of wine, watering it half and half. He helped the man out of his heavy leathers and took off his boots, then served them both with food. They ate hungrily and in near silence…
"Will you rest awhile?" asked Tasarion when they had finished.
Boromir nodded. It felt foolish to sleep his time away, but he found he tired easily and after the fast pace of their march to the city and the long climb his legs ached with fatigue.
"We will not be disturbed here. You might as well undress completely, then we can see about water for washing when you wake, and fresh small clothes and a shirt for you."
"Shall you stay?"
"I will sit and wait until you have slept. The chamberlain has left some volumes; I shall read those. Rest as long as you care to."
Boromir stretched his arms and flexed cramped shoulders before he began to unlace his shirt and trews. Tasarion took up a volume of verse and discreetly devoted his attention to it while the man undressed, but since the room was small… he could not help but watch out of the corner of his eye, and besides… he was curious, for he had never seen a naked man before. The rumours he'd heard about their 'endowments' were indeed true! The wide shoulders, long well-muscled back, the muscular thighs thickly covered with hair, well-defined firm buttocks and … Tasarion forced his attention back to the pages and the line he'd read five times already…
Boromir lay down on his back and drew the fine, wool-stuffed quilt up to his waist, sighing with relief as his head found the comfortable feather pillow. He glanced across to where Tasarion was already deeply engrossed in his book. Boromir wriggled into a comfortable position, smiling with contentment as he closed his eyes. Tasarion meanwhile was trying hard to erase the vision of taut stomach muscles trailed with fine hair that became thick, dark curls surrounding a manhood that was intriguingly substantial, even when flaccid, above a heavy sac of dark, red skin. Again he read the same line of poetry, and began to think that perhaps a bath in some cold water might be a good idea!
Boromir was woken by the sound of water pouring into metal, repeated bucketsful by the sound of it… in the room next door! He blinked awake in the darkened room and sat up to investigate. Finding his clothes had been removed, he wrapped the quilt about his waist. He pushed the panels experimentally and found one that gave access to the room next door, where Tasarion and another elf were organising hot water to fill a large metal hip-bath, brought up via a mechanism of shelves and pulleys inside a wooden column that obviously connected to premises lower down the great tree. The bathroom was well-equipped; two polished wooden wash-stands beneath elegantly carved framed mirrors held basins and ewers, jars and covered dishes that must contain soap and pomades at their sides, and piles of flat-woven towels on the shelf beneath.
"These are Lord Celeborn's private quarters," Tasarion explained, "He thought you would be more comfortable here than using the general facilities below."
Boromir nodded, glancing around the panelled room evidently designed for total privacy. There were no windows here, but lamps lit the room with a pleasant glow. Having filled the hip-bath with sufficient water to bathe in comfortably, the other elf inclined his head and left them. Boromir stood without moving, slightly hesitant, still looking around.
Tasarion cleared his throat. "Lord Celeborn's rooms are beyond this door. Here…" He opened another panelled door onto a small room containing a closed bench, "… is the earth-closet… after you have finished, close the lid and turn the handle – the earth will fall automatically…" He mumbled his explanation, not entirely sure if the man was familiar with the concept of indoor… um… arrangements. "I'll… er… leave you to bathe, and I shall be next door. Your clothes are being cleaned, but they've left fresh ones for you here."
Boromir saw a neatly folded pile of clothing on a bench against the wall. He nodded his thanks as Tasarion withdrew hastily. Boromir was not as much of himself to be angered at the insinuation that he was crude enough to be ignorant of indoor plumbing… but he was grateful to avail himself of the earth-closet without having to walk down the stairs! The warm water of the hip-bath allowed him to wash himself thoroughly, which was a pleasure, but his newly healing scars and the repeated strain of firing a bow made reaching his back, and lifting the rinsing-pail to sluice his hair painful.
"Tasarion…" he called. "Tasarion…"
The elf opened the inner door a crack.
"Will you help me wash my back?"
The elf hesitated.
"And I can't pour water over my head properly…"
The elf came in, accepted the proffered wash-cloth and made a swift job of rubbing soap into Boromir's back, taking care not to put pressure on the pink skin of the rapidly improving wounds. He hesitated before kneeling, dipping the cloth repeatedly in the water and sluicing the man free of soap.
Tasarion dutifully poured cleansing oil into his hands and massaged it into Boromir's hair with his fingertips, very slowly working it up into lather with firm, circular strokes that caressed his scalp.
Boromir, eyes closed, sighed with contentment. "You do that wonderfully well..."
The elf's hands froze for a moment, "Oh… It is a custom… everyone does… Put your head back."
He filled the small wooden pail and tipped it over Boromir's head, shielding the water from the man's face with his other hand.
"There – finished."
Boromir opened his eyes, stretching lazily with contentment before standing up in the hip-bath. Tasarion held out a towel to him, and then quickly departed, leaving Boromir slightly puzzled as to why the elf had left in such haste. '…Was he that distasteful to look at?' He dried himself quickly and dressed in the elvish garments laid out for him.
When he re-entered their sleeping room fully dressed, Tasarion greeted him with a smile that, if Boromir's perceptions had not been a little blunted, he would have read as 'relief'!
"Shall I show you around the city – although it is dark, now?" asked Tasarion.
"I know my way," Boromir frowned a little, wondering why he should be asked if he knew the city, then continued, "Do you know the numbers of the muster yet?"
Now it was Tasarion's turn to be puzzled. "No – I am not a captain, only a marchwarden…"
Boromir cocked his head to one side, considering, before replying.
"We should find out. Where is Lord Celeborn?"
"In the Great Chamber – but we…"
"He will not mind us joining him."
The man smiled and strode to the door, leaving the young elf open-mouthed to trail in his wake.