4. Son of the Wilderness
He was great of growth and goodly-limbed,
but lithe of girth, and lightly on the ground
his footsteps fell as he fared towards them,
all garbed in grey and green and brown --
a son of the wilderness who wist no sire.
-- The Lay of The Children of Húrin
I first spotted him leaning close to Thingol, listening carefully, a wry smile lighting up his striking face at something the ancient king had said. He stood tall, exceptionally thin, but perfectly formed, and with the sultry grace of a creature of the forest. In fact, to my hungry eyes, he seemed to radiate sexual self-assurance. I could not imagine him acting in a deliberately flirtatious or provocative manner, but much less being bothered to rein in his innate sensuality. Clad in subtle earth tones, he did not immediately stand out among the bejeweled jackdaws of the Noldor and the less colorful but otherwise equally elegantly clad Sindarin elite. Once he had captured my attention, it was difficult to look away. All but certain that I looked upon a legend returned to life, I nevertheless could not place who he might possibly be.
His hair fell loose to well below his waist, but had the creases and crimps that indicated he usually wore it tightly braided. He had the traditional long hair favored by the ancient Elves as a point of personal pride and a blatant proclamation of virility.
I gave a slight shake of my head and released a huff of breath, thinking how I had so blithely rejected the attentions of the young Noldo earlier in the day on the basis of a difference in our ages, while now I stood enthralled by an Elf, who might be as old as King Elu Thingol himself. Who could he be? I asked myself. His garb was unfamiliar to me. I could not ferret out any cultural clues. He might have seemed a simple Elf, were it not for his air of authority and unselfconscious confidence. His dark hair and light grey eyes could place him within almost any ethnicity among the Eldar, except perhaps the Vanyar.
As I was watching him, he glanced at me. He said something to Elu Thingol, with a quizzical nod in my direction, pointing to the side of his head. I involuntarily raised my hand to the single plait in my hair. Earlier that night, after donning an appropriately formal green silk tunic, in moment of rebellion I had added a traditional Silvan beaded leather braid wrap ending in a pheasant feather. He gave a short bow to Elu Thingol and walked directly to me.
"Beleg," he said.
I had to bite the inside of my cheek to prevent my jaw from dropping open like a hero-worshiping child. "Beleg and Túrin," I said, blushing so hard it burned.
"Yes. I have been told I have earned my place in history due to the small part I played in the relentlessly dire and oppressive story of the cursed fate of Húrin and his unfortunate children."
"Well, that's a trenchant summary for a tale we read and discussed in lengthy detail when I was a schoolboy."
"Seriously, Túrin was a dear friend and a fellow combatant against the Enemy. I loved him, although he was a complex, difficult man who never made that easy."
The quality of his voice, deep and sonorous, more like that of the Noldor than the melodious higher tones that I associated with the early Sindar. The low rumble of it mesmerized me and, much to my disconcertment, reached deep inside of me and came to rest somewhere in the area of my groin. Belatedly realizing that he had stopped speaking, I instinctively extended my hand in the Silvan manner and he returned the complicated handclasp with practiced ease. Throughout two full Ages, some small things had survived unchanged.
"I am . . ."
He interrupted me, "I am sorry. I have you at my advantage. I already asked who you were. You are Haldir of Lothlórien, last chief of Celeborn's marchwardens-apparently we have something in common there." He reached out and touched the feather dangling from my braid. "I presume you are of the Nandor."
"Of the Nandor in culture and upbringing. The Lady Galadriel once told me she believed she sensed Sindar and Avari within me as well. We just called ourselves Silvan. Others called us Galadhrim, after our city Caras Galadhon."
"Ah, a fellow son of the forest. You and Celeborn, with your unusual silver-blond hair, may even share a common ancestor at some point near the beginning."
"My hair has more yellow in it," I commented pointlessly.
"You have glorious hair. You do have a bit of the sun in yours, while his has the moon alone. The moon is beautiful but cooler." I opened my mouth to speak but he threw his head back and laughed. "Oh, you don't have to tell me that Celeborn is not cold. I have known him since he was a child; he has always been hot-blooded."
"Well, I knew nothing of that until recently." My voice sounded petulant to me. I cringed inwardly about what I had just admitted with my careless remark.
"I have heard his lady drove a hard bargain for hand-fasting with him. I wouldn't have believed it, if I had not seen it with my own eyes. Yet they do give the impression of being happy together."
I glanced at Galadriel and Celeborn. She gazed up into his face and he couldn't seem to keep his hands to himself. First touching her cheek with the back of his hand, then tangling his fingers in her hair, he leaned closer to her and whispered into her ear. No doubt he uttered a suggestive comment, which he accompanied with a surreptitious touch of his clever tongue. I well remembered how that felt, but I told myself I did not care. I had to remain numb.
"It may not be the most peaceful of relationships, but it is a solid one," I responded in an intentionally neutral tone.
"Now that could fit with what I know of him. It would take a lady of strong will to keep Celeborn close to home and one with a volatile temperament to hold his affections. So, he is happily reunited with his partner. And where does that leave you now, young Haldir?"
His tone angered me. Who was this presumptuous old Elf, so cursedly attractive, who dared stand there and ask me questions about my personal circumstances, and essentially the state of my heart, the finer details of which I had kept from even my brothers?
"What it is to you, Beleg? Have you spent so much time among outlaws in the wilds and, more recently isolated in the Halls of Mandos, that you have forgotten the conventions of basic courtesy?" His face turned crimson with mirth and his loud bark of a laugh caused heads to turn in our direction.
"Forgive me," he said. "I have never been good at seduction." His eyes crinkled in humor. "Let me start all over again. You are a fine-looking man, Haldir, and we have similar backgrounds and experiences. I like the way you carry yourself and enjoy your frank manner. Can I fetch you another drink?"
"Yes, please. Now I feel like I owe you an apology. I must have sounded like a coy maiden who asks for a declaration of everlasting love before she will engage in a conversation. I misjudged you. I thought you sought confirmation of gossip at best, or, at worst, that you, a complete stranger, wanted to offer me advice concerning my private life."
Secure in the knowledge that Beleg shared my interest, I allowed myself to examine him more closely as he pulled a waiter over to secure two glasses of red wine. His pale grey eyes, the color of a winter sky, stood out in contrast against a slightly olive complexion. Those striking eyes were fringed in long, black lashes that would have driven maidens who try to darken or thicken theirs mad with envy. Distinct from Celeborn, there was nothing of prettiness about Beleg, except perhaps for those beautiful eyes. His nose hawkish and his mouth too wide for perfect proportion, however, contributed to an unusual handsomeness, uncompromisingly masculine in its effect.
"Tell me, Haldir, do you ever to talk to trees?" he asked. Accustomed as I had become in my short time in Valinor to the companionship of Noldor, I involuntarily bristled, before I recalled the history and identity of the questioner.
"Haven't had the opportunity in a while."
"I know a wooded location not far from here."
"Not that copse of trees near the civic center?" I asked, appalled.
"Hardly," he chortled. "So, someone entertained you with the local legend regarding Tirion's most notorious example of romantic love among men. Have you seen them? They are here tonight."
"No. And, of course, I would like to see them. But gawking at them sounds rude and tactless. Even for me."
"Doesn't have to be. Don't be obvious. Just take a couple of steps back, turn, and look to the right of Arafinwë, on the divan against the window. You cannot miss them they are unmistakable."
"Varda's stars," I swore under my breath. "No wonder the bards love their story. They are . . . They are magnificent."
Beleg broke into the characteristic huffing sounds, which pass for a sardonic laugh among the less pretentious of the Sindar. "Strong reaction for someone who has been tupping the gorgeous Celeborn."
"I didn't say I was tupping Celeborn." My affronted tone was nothing but pure pretense. I already felt more comfortable with this man than I had felt with anyone in longer than I cared to consider.
"Sorry, lad. I assure you that I know everything there is to know about Prince Celeborn. Enough, in fact, that I would wager I could make a dead accurate guess about who was tupping whom. Some things about people never change. But your secrets are safe with me."
"Fine. Have it your way. Show me your trees. As long as they are not those poor stunted things, pruned to within in an inch of their lives. It breaks my heart to even think of them."
"Ah, he does have a smile," Beleg rumbled, taking me by the elbow. "And one as fair as sunlight on spring flowers. Let's go then. They are strict and formal about greetings at these functions, but one can take one's leave without observing any protocol. Probably something to do with either the quantity of alcohol consumed or the necessity of allowing people to slip away without it being noticed with whom."
Outside in the moonlight, the idea of visiting a wooded area held ever-greater appeal. The white buildings, endless steep staircases, and cleanly swept streets, held only the occasional hint of nature: a sapling here and there growing in a white-washed pot, the occasional carefully groomed rose bushes at the front of a house, a glimpse of a grape arbor in someone's backyard, and the ubiquitous cut and trimmed small rectangles of grass. I wondered how the Noldor managed to stay vigorous living like that.
"It is a long walk at night. But if we hurry we will not have to walk, but can catch a ride on the Royal Mail Coach. It never fails to leave and always departs on time."
"The mail coach?" I asked, stupidly.
"Delivers letter and packages from place to place on a regular route. Less costly and more practical than using private messengers. Dates back to well before the exile." Beleg sighed deeply. "The entire place is strange to me, but the Noldor, who I always viewed as stranger than strange, are the ones thus far that I understand the best. They are stubborn, question authority, and yet don't like to waste effort. Well, except for their obsession with fancy clothes and ornaments. Where did you get that tunic you're wearing? Very Noldorin. Are you wearing a shirt under it? It's not suitable for the mail coach or the place where I want to take you."
"Celeborn told me I ought to wear something particularly nice for that dinner."
"Hmph! Celeborn was a fop when he was still wearing animal skins."
I immediately began unfastening the ludicrously complicated fixtures that concealed the buttons on my tunic, while Beleg watched greatly amused. Instead of being embarrassed it struck me as humorous also. I finally pulled the tunic from under my belt, sloughed it off, and folded it inside out, uncertain of what I would do with it. Beleg extended a bag he carried over shoulder and held it open for me. I stuffed the useless tunic inside.
"Might as well put the fancy knife in here too," he said, gesturing toward the ornamental dagger that hung on my belt. "Wouldn't want you to loose any of the gemstones would we?"
I unbuckled my belt and tossed the dagger, still in its sheath, into the bag as well. "They're only semi-precious, worth little more than paste," I objected.
"Such sensibilities. Are you sure you aren't Noldor?"
Re-buckling the belt, I looked up at him. "Well, do I pass inspection now?"
"You'll do." He threw the bag over his shoulder and took off at a sharp clip. I followed behind him, allowing myself to inspect his impressively rounded backside and his heavy fall of black hair. 'He will more than do,' I thought.
A short walk down an alleyway, behind the large buildings in the center of the city, led us to an open courtyard where a large coach awaited.
"This is it," Beleg announced. "The mail coach. For a small fee we can ride inside, if there is space. Or outside, which I would recommend. No crowding and we are able to jump down easily when it stops near our destination."
"You are clearly more familiar with the city than I am."
"I have had nearly two years. It will never compare to the wilderness around Doriath, but neither is this land as alien as I originally had feared. This is the coach we want. Wait here while I speak with the coachman."
The coachman, the closest to portly I had ever seen an Elf to be, greeted my new friend with a hearty slap on the back. He gestured in the direction of a family comprised of a man, his young wife and a babe in arms. Nearby two prim maids and another man, who appeared to be their father, waited. Beleg returned to me.
"We have good fortune. The inside seats have been filled, but we can ride on top."
He gracefully swung himself up onto a seat on the box and extended his hand to help me. We sat watching as the two pinched-faced, proper ladies and their father boarded below us, followed by the woman with the infant and her husband, who struggled in behind her under the clumsy weight of a cloth-wrapped bundle, a carpetbag, and a covered bird-cage.
The door had no sooner closed behind them than the coachman took his seat in front and shouted, "All ready."
The horses took off at the sound of the crack of the coachman's whip. The baby within began to shriek and Beleg grinned at me.
"It is much more pleasant on the outside and the air is fresher too," he said.
We traveled in the opposite direction from which I had entered Tirion a few weeks earlier. In a short time, we had passed the last of the stone buildings and walls and entered into a suburban countryside. The houses along the road grew farther apart and the trees and vegetation thicker. The weather of Tirion always resembles midsummer and that evening was particularly fine, fresh and not humid. A full moon provided us with good visibility. We made only one stop, where the driver passed off a bag to a man who met the coach in front of the town hall of a small village and received one in return. Then some quarter of an hour or so later, Beleg told the coachman we had reached our point of departure.
There were no houses in the area where we dismounted. But a winding path led toward a dark, thick wood of old growth trees.
"I live near here as well," Beleg said, guiding me into the forest with a hand in middle of my back.
I have been called a true wood-elf, been told that I am good with trees. What an ordinary phrase to describe something with the potential for such transcendence and euphoric transport from the mundane. Beleg, however, was better than good. The ancient oak responded to him with a fervency that recalled something between the welcome of a long-absent lover and the embrace by a mother of an adored child. I tightened my grip on his fingers, laced together with mine, our arms encircling the tree. My concentration on the life force of the tree began to waver and center more firmly upon him. He abruptly let go of my hands and stepped back.
"Not bad. But next time, relax a bit more. It's not sex, Haldir," he said laconically.
I thought, 'If only it were.' He answered my unspoken desire. "When we do come together, and I assure you that we will, it is going to reset your world on a new axis."
"Oh, you're that good are you?"
"I'm all right, but the two of us focused and together . . ."
"That sounds silly. I don't want to wait."
"Well, then you will have to proceed without me. I'd watch," he said with a wicked grin, "but I think that would be too much for me. And you are not ready for me yet."
I had an immediate positive reaction to Beleg's abrupt and arrogant tone. I could not find it in me to object. It came as a relief after more than one hundred years in Celeborn's company, which put me in situations where diplomacy and courtly manners were required. Those were not natural to Celeborn either, but they did not threaten his sense of equilibrium. However, I still chafed at such pretense.
There would time enough to sort out Beleg's manner and his eccentric ideas, I told myself. We were in Aman now. There was no enemy at our doorstep. And, it had been more than clear to me when we touched around the tree that the shift from a sense of oneness with nature and the forest to physical need had met an echo within him. I also knew enough about human nature and emotions to understand that his statement that I was not ready for him could just as easily indicate the exact reverse. I wondered of the effects of his time in Halls of Mandos. I suspected the time elapsed since he had been free seemed short. Perhaps his previous life still felt closer to reality than this new existence.
We decided I should stay until morning with Beleg at his nearby cabin on the outskirts of that wood. Implicit in my acceptance of his invitation was that I would not press him for physical intimacy, but leave the initiative to him.
As we walked back toward his homely shelter, I could not resist raising a question that had occurred to me when he had dropped my hand and stepped away from the tree.
"You said earlier tonight that you loved Turin. Did you ever show him that?"
"What? How to reach more deeply into the heart of a tree?"
"I did try." Icy eyes warned me not to press further.
"And how did he respond?" I have never reacted wisely to such threats.
"It is disingenuous to ask questions to which you already know the answer but I will admit that what you believe is true. He said it felt restful, but that he was growing hungry and cold." I snorted at that. Beleg narrowed his eyes in admonition. "Yes, you have the advantage of being able to offer me more than he ever could. Satisfied?"
"No, I simply . . . "
"You have no grounds for smugness at my past choices, whelp. Your Prince Celeborn gained his knowledge of the forest under the starlight. He could have taught you much that you may not know of wood lore had he chosen to do so, yet he saved such intimacies for his mate alone."
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.