5. Farewell to False Love
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew.
--Sir Walter Raleigh
We left the wild secluded scene where we had encountered that noble oak and reached a less dense part of the woods. The moonlight filtering through the trees revealed a rough cottage, actually a cabin constructed of split logs. Entering the cabin, Beleg, with a practiced flick of the fingers, lit a crude lamp. He did not exercise the gesture with the intent to impress me, but it did. I had only ever seen Galadriel execute something like that and, not to disparage the lady, with a certain smugness I had always thought.
The setting held nothing of ostentation and yet spoke worlds of a man who did not carelessly cast aside simple comforts in support of some disdainful pretense of mind over matter, or nature over craft. A cheery checked cloth covered a small table flanked by two chairs. On a large bed in one corner, three plump pillows rested on a blue woven coverlet.
A small metal wood-burning cook stove sat in another corner, vented by a pipe through the ceiling. Glass jars holding grains, dried herbs, and other items lined a nearby shelf. A bright cloth securely covered an eastern-facing window near the bed. Apparently Beleg did not rise at dawn on every day. Another lamp near the bed and small bookshelf hinted at late-night reading. My immediate impression was of a solitary inhabitant, but not a lonely or depressed one. To my great relief, I observed that my host lived in spare but homely comfort and not dreary asceticism.
"Would you like a drink? I am well stocked at the moment. I have ale, wine, and a flask of something stronger."
"Yes, please. I'll try the something stronger."
He opened a cupboard and returned with two mugs and a metal flask. He splashed an amber colored liquid into each mug. Taking the chair across from me at the table, he signaled for me to lift my mug and touched it lightly with his own.
"In honor of the past and looking forward to the future." Watching him empty his cup, I did the same.
"Another?" he asked, widening his eyes at me as he tipped the flask toward my mug.
"Yes." The second portion was twice that of the first. "You aren't trying to get me drunk are you, Beleg? Surely not after refusing me earlier."
"No. But I would like you to relax enough to stop trying to engulf me and listen to what I want to say."
I nodded, chastened, like a repentant boy before his schoolmaster. Still my senses would not shut down. I noted the delectable fullness of his lower lip and, lowering my eyes to avoid the sight, fixed immediately upon his long, slender fingers splayed out on the table before me. With difficulty I managed to halt my imaginings of how they might feel upon my body.
Beleg cleared his throat, capturing my attention with his intense eyes. "I feel a call to you, more than just from your body, or the demands resulting from my own abstinence. But you recently have been hurt, more than you admit. It is as plain as the nose on your face. And I have not the balance within myself now to appreciate, as I would wish, the force of your youthful energy. I would be a hypocrite to deny you one night, or even a few, if that is all you want. But I am offering you more in exchange for a little patience. Does that frighten you?"
"You do scare the shit out of me," I said, holding my chin high and forcing myself to maintain eye contact with him. Then impulsively, I took his hand and kissed the palm, holding it against my cheek. "But I would be a fool indeed not to accept that bargain."
He did not pull his hand away, but half-stood, reaching across the table, and kissed me on the forehead. Sitting back down, he asked, "Shall we get drunk?"
We talked several hours more. I told him the stories that everyone wants to hear about Lothlórien: its enchantment, Galadriel's ring and her mirror, and the Galadhrim, a mixed people brought together over time into a self-conscious entity, as well as our growing awareness of the increasing malevolence emanating from Dol Guldur just across the Anduin, and finally of the Battle of the Golden Wood.
He told me first of Doriath and the marvels of the Thousands Caves of Menegroth. His storytelling revealed his sense of humor and his own unique perspective.
"Doriath was not made up of a thousand caves," he said, "as extravagant bards relish in reporting here. Would that they had been. Then they would not have been nearly so crowded."
I pretended to be shocked and asked, "Are you telling me the truth?"
"Largely," he drawled, with a roguish wink.
He explained how Elves and Dwarves together had brought their distinctive skills to the construction of that monument to what he called, "creative excess." I fueled his rampant irreverence with my laughter. He continued on with a fanciful description of what he characterized as an overweening preoccupation with realistic detail: carvings of vines, trees, shrubs, birds, even bees and insects that covered the walls and ceilings of most hallways and chambers.
In the process of his recounting, he told me far more about Beleg than Menegroth. I began to see clearly the picture of the man, edgy within a courtly setting and drawn to seek solitary renewal in the wilderness. His impatience with the reliance upon a girdle of magic was palpable, although not explicit, as was his personal compulsion to directly seek out and face down the Enemy.
Against my better judgment, I again brought up the subject of Túrin. I believed Túrin represented my competition for his regard, much as Galadriel had stood between Celeborn and me. In this case, I was determined to face down my rival, even though he was a ghost.
Beleg is a stronger, braver man than I am. He could have told me to hold my tongue, but he did not and tried to answer me honestly.
"Túrin was a beautiful child, on the cusp of manhood when I first met him. Deeply troubled and carrying an ill-fate. But I stupidly wanted to change or mitigate that. He became an obsession for me when the promise of his youth turned him into an intelligent, highly accomplished young man, fair as any Elf. The rest of the miserable story you have read in your books. My personal side of it is that I gave him my heart and he gave me his body, sometimes joyfully, but more often than not grudgingly, only to quell the worst of my shameless pouting or his own need."
"I am sorry. That is more painful than my own story."
"Well, I never expected anything from Celeborn that he did not give me."
"There is the root of your self-deception, lad. The heart perseveres in expecting what reason insists is impossible. Ai, but it is getting late and we both need to sleep. I will sleep on the floor and let you have the bed, since I dragged you here."
"I don't want you sleeping on the floor. Sleep in the bed with me. I promise not to touch you."
"Are you sure you will keep that promise? You are drunk and randy."
"Not entirely sure. But I will try. And if I don't, then you can throw me onto the floor."
"Wrong again. I seriously doubt that I would be capable of doing that. Do you have no idea how enchanting you are? Indulge me on this. Just for a while. I am too inebriated to reconsider my decision, but sober enough to know not to try."
When I awakened the following morning, Beleg had left the cabin already. A pot of tea steamed on the table, so I assumed he was not far. I had drunk two cups, half expecting him to walk in at any moment, when I finally became aware enough to distinguish the familiar thud of an arrow hitting a target. I went to the door and called out his name. I did not want to risk putting myself in the line of Beleg's legendary bow arm.
He yelled back to me, "Come around to the back of the cabin."
"How are you with a bow?" he asked. I laughed aloud at that. What a question.
"Not up to your standards, I am sure. But I am better than most. The worst of the Galadhrim warriors were considered superior bowmen in Middle-earth. I expect I had a couple under me who could provide you with a true contest. I am fairly respectable with a sword though."
"Ah, then, that would explain the appealing bulk of you." Perhaps I imagined the challenge in his grin, as, with a glint of playfulness in his pale grey eyes, he boldly looked me up and down. "Would you like to try? I can fetch a lighter bow. This one is a monster."
His bow, graceful but heavy, made of lovingly finished black wood, looked as though it could be a model of his famous Belthronding.
"I am not afraid of making a fool of myself. But I would prefer to do it with a lighter one, if you don't mind."
I followed him into a nearby shed. It had a long worktable, with two partially fashioned bows on it, and neat shelves of tools and jars. On the opposite wall hung several finished bows.
"This is what I do out here. Trying to teach myself, although I have had help from a craftsman formerly of Eryn Lasgalen. He is a real master. He made the black bow I am using." He reached for a handsome bow of blond wood on the wall. "Try this one. It came out well, I think. You'll have to adjust the string. I haven't used it in a while."
I took the bow from him. "This is really impressive. I mean, not just the bow, which is very nice, by the way, but the whole workshop."
"I had to find something to do, didn't I?" He shrugged with what I had already begun to think of as that typical Beleg insouciant shrug.
We used a close target, in deference to my self-proclaimed inferiority. I kept up with him easily, thanks to the lighter bow and the nearness of the target. The sun grew hotter and we both grew bored. We were shortly reduced to horseplay and attempts to distract the other to entertain ourselves. He insisted at one point that I try the heavy bow. My arms were already tired, but I was able to use it. He accused me of lying about my lack of skill and I taunted him that the great Beleg was not as good as the stories had said he was. He insisted we try a more distant target and he trounced me soundly.
We flopped onto the grass and leaned back against the shed. Beleg pulled his shirt off. I spotted a tattoo on his upper left chest. I had seen them on Men before, but I had never seen one on an Elf. Not that I ever had wanted one, but I had asked about them, and was told they did not easily take on Elves, fading quickly. He saw me looking and tried to casually cover it with his hand.
I pulled his hand down. "Too late now. Let me see it." It was a drawing of his famous bow and the Dragon-helm of Dor-lómin. "I am sorry," I said.
"You would have seen it eventually. It is part of me. Does it bother you?"
"Should it?" I asked, pointedly.
"No. It's history. Maybe I should have let it go. But I did not. I could have. Can you tolerate another story?"
"You know I want to know everything about you." As usual I wished I had a jot of discretion. I thought to myself, 'Well, but I don't and that is part of who I am.'
"When Námo declared me ready to leave the Halls of Mandos, he gave me this body. It was exactly like the old one. But no scars. Not a mark to show it had ever been used. Of course, it had not. I was admiring myself and I noticed. No tattoo. Just then Námo came in to see me. For one of his last little talks." He rolled his eyes at the memory, allowing himself a self-deprecating grin. I chuckled at the image of Beleg enduring an edifying lecture from a Vala.
"Naturally, I threw a temper fit. Regular adolescent, out-of-control, shouting and stomping temper fit. He just watched me. I thought for a moment he was going to tell me that I was clearly not ready to leave. Instead, he just waved his hand and there it was, only brighter and clearer than the original. Perfect. Like everything else."
I leaned over him to examine the design carefully, actually taking advantage of the opportunity to study his smooth olive skin, wondering how it would feel to kiss, what he would taste like. Perfect. The word had excited my imagination.
"So, how did you happen to get it? I was told our bodies did not keep tattoos. How was it done?"
"One of the Men who were with Túrin and me knew how to do it. A passable artist. He had marked a few others. People already had begun to refer to us as the Bow and the Helm. Túrin suggested we get tattoos of the bow and helm. His stayed clear, but mine, almost immediately began to lighten and blur. Then we ran across a group of Avari. Many of them had tattoos. So, I asked them how it was done. Nasty ingredients and a little magic. One of their elders fixed mine. It lasted. Although by then, it did not need to last long. This one appears to be permanent. Hasn't faded a bit in over two years. Perhaps there is a lesson in that. Be careful what you ask of the Valar."
"It is not unattractive. I suppose I will wonder if you think of him when you look at it."
"The truth is that I will probably think of my sense of regret when you saw it and telling you about it."
"Do not worry about that with me. You will not get rid of me so easily. I want to know what I have to do next, to win your confidence enough that you will let me make love to you."
"You are single-minded."
"It's just that sitting here looking at you half-naked brought it all to the fore again. Not that it was ever far away."
"You could talk about yourself. What you have told me could have come from any Galadhrim of your generation. What about you and Celeborn?"
"Yes. Celeborn, of course," I said, suddenly shy and halting of voice. "Well, he's very beautiful."
"Yes, notoriously so. Give it up, Haldir. I've told you my much darker story in tedious detail." He crossed his arms over his chest in a gesture of brusque determination, but his eyes remained gentle.
"All right then." I took a deep breath, looked off into the distance, and started speaking rapidly, as though to get it over as quickly as possible. "Making love with him could be light, playful even, or passionate, serious and intense, or he could be a real bastard, rough and almost angry, then just as suddenly turn sweetly tender. Almost all of the time, he preferred that I take him . . ."
Beleg interrupted me. "You do not have to give me physical details. I asked because I want to know how you feel about him now. How you are handling the separation. I should have told you much sooner . . ."
"Told me what?"
"I said that I knew Celeborn well, intimately would be more accurate. So attractive and so conscious of it. In fact, I slept with him a few times. During the time when Thingol was missing. For me at least, he seemed like magic and poison at the same time. So, of course, I worried when I found myself so drawn to you and then, virtually simultaneously, learned that you had been with him for quite some time."
He had stunned me. I was unable to speak, thinking that I should have guessed. There had been clues: in particular, his tone of certainty when he had spoken of Celeborn. At that moment, I did not care to think of Celeborn, but of Beleg, and how any of this could affect how he felt about me. We sat close, our thighs almost touching. I badly wanted to touch him. Just as I turned to him, he pulled me into his arms. I clutched at him and buried my face against his sun-warmed, bare chest.
"Doesn't matter," I said keeping my cheek against his chest. I wasn't going to relinquish the skin-to-skin contact until he forced me. "I ought to have guessed. You knew too much. Let me tell you about the entire affair. I want to now. With Celeborn, there was ever a space between us that could never be crossed. He was addictive and yet always available, warm and affectionate in his way. If I did not seek him out, because I needed to think or wanted a little time to myself, he would look for me and I could never resist him. I felt as if he needed to be needed. But I was a placeholder for the present only. We said farewell on the ship and then he approached me once in Alqualondë and again, just yesterday, in Tirion. Both times I sent him away. I want to forget him. But I had grown accustomed to him always being there. At first, I admit that I was heartsick and I have missed him physically. I had never been with anyone day in and day out before him. But I would never go back to him. I will never again endure that kind of inequality in a relationship."
"Look at me." He shifted his head back and lifted my face up by my chin. "I don't possess his magic, magnetism, whatever you want to call it, and certainly not that type of beauty. But you always would be first with me."
"You have no idea how I see you. You are killing me. I want you so much."
My declaration broke the spell.
"I need to go to Tirion. I promised to bring someone two of my bows to look at today."
"You need a horse," I said.
He fed me before we left and, once again, we used a mail coach to return to the city. After his business, he returned to the cafe and accepted a light supper there, but refused to stay the night. He promised to contact me when he next returned to Tirion.