6. Summer Heat
Ithilien, Fourth Age
A week off Midsummer, and Ithilien was slowly roasting under flawless blue skies. Rowanna had been hard at work, watching over foalings, for several nights running; yet it was hard to catch up on sleep during the sweltering days, and along with the rest of Dôr Ararych she grew increasingly sticky and tetchy.
At last, with no more mares due to foal for a few days, came respite – from responsibility, if not from the heat. Legolas appeared one morning out of the trees, after a fortnight or more's absence, and set about persuading Rowanna to play truant.
Despite her reluctance, he had allies; her head groom and stable-lad were both adamant that with the herds drowsing in the shade and all quiet, she could easily be spared till nightfall and, should she wish, beyond. And so the two of them gathered together a few provisions, water and a flask of wine, and left Dôr Ararych behind.
They wandered for hours deep into the wilderness of Ithilien's woods, guided by Legolas's infallible sense of the shape of the lands he tended, over streams and around fallen trees. As they brushed through thickets the smells of sage and lavender rose up in waves around them; the only sounds were the rhythmic sawing of the crickets and the occasional cries of birds. As they reached another stand of holm-oaks the Elf paused, listened, breathed.
"Yes, I thought so – come, melethen, down this way –" He took her hand, and led her through the trees, down a slope; the air was suddenly cooler, damper –
"Greener." He finished her thought. "The good green smell of earth! It has been nearly baked out of the land these last long, hot days – but not down here; see..."
They were dropping into a little ravine, into shade, with green grass now beneath their feet; once or twice Rowanna nearly slipped or slid on the steep slope, but always Legolas was ready and steadied her. She could hear, could smell, running water... and then the ground eased out into a tiny, hidden valley, its sides steep rock hung with curtains of moss, the trees above leaning over to provide dappled shadow. At the ravine's head a stream tumbled from the cliff above them into a deep, clear pool.
Rowanna let out a long, relieved breath she had not known she was holding, and felt days of crotchety tension falling from her shoulders.
"It's wonderful. How did you know it was here?"
"I remembered coming across that stream further up its course," Legolas said as he dropped his pack of provisions from his shoulder, and carefully laid bow and quiver against a rock, "and I could feel the land dropping away south and east of us as we walked; so I guessed there might be something like this." His eyes danced as Rowanna eagerly pulled her boots off and let the long, cool grass caress her bare feet. "Is that better?"
"I can't begin to tell you how much better," Rowanna agreed. She wandered the length of the little greensward, looking curiously upwards. "From above, you'd hardly know it was here!"
"Elven eyes would pick it out," Legolas assured her. "But would pay it no particular attention unless they were especially seeking somewhere cool – and secluded..." He arched one eyebrow very slightly, and Rowanna felt a tingling answer somewhere deep in the centre of her.
They sat on the rocks, dangling their feet in the water, to munch their bread, cheese and apples, passing the flask of wine between them. "Look how clear the water is," Rowanna mused. She dropped a pebble in and watched it fall. "Yes, see, it must be a good six feet deep, yet it only looks a fraction of that. I might have to bathe when we've eaten..."
When Legolas wandered off to inspect the ferns and mosses more closely, however, she found herself far more inclined to stretch out on the rock and close her eyes. She was drifting away, lulled by the warmth and the rushing of the stream, when a laughing voice enquired:
"I thought you were going to bathe, idle one?"
"In a bit..." Then she gasped as a spatter of cool droplets hit her. "Hey!" Instantly awake, she reached down to the pool and splashed vigorously in Legolas' direction – receiving retribution in the form of a mock-wrestling match which ended, moments later, with her lover rolling them both off the rock and into the pool.
"Arghhh! You – you –" Too breathless in the icy water to shriek, she could only splutter indignantly and attempt to duck the Elf, who was of course far too swift and too lithe in the water for her to get near him. He dived instead to the bottom of the pool, and came up holding a small stone; blue-green, perfectly round, with wavy lines of a darker blue shot through it.
"A peace-offering, melethen..."
"You impossible Elf," Rowanna grumbled, taking the pebble and hauling herself out onto the bank, her long dark hair streaming with water. "If we were going in, we might at least have got undressed first!"
His eyebrow arched again. "We can do that now..."
In one graceful movement he pushed himself up onto the rock, then began peeling off the sodden silk shirt which clung to his chest and shoulders. Rowanna reached to stop him. "I'll do that..."
She took her time about it, relishing the sight of the droplets of water gleaming on his golden skin, the muscles shifting beneath; her breath came out in one gusty sigh. "I haven't looked at you like this for weeks..."
"I told you it was high time you played truant." Legolas unlaced her shirt and unpeeled it from her skin in turn, followed by her breeches and his leggings.
"Those'll dry, spread out on the rock," Rowanna pointed out. "Though it might take a little while..."
"Then," Legolas murmured, stretching out on the lush carpet of grass and drawing her down beside him, "we'll just have to find some way to spend the time, won't we?"
It was, after all, she thought, far too hot a day to do anything quickly. Lazily, they kissed; slowly, his damp hair trailing over her skin, Legolas worked his way all over her body, easing the tension of the preceding days out of her with lips and hands and tongue. Turn and turn about they took pleasure in one another, neither in any hurry to come to a peak.
"How long... can you keep that up?" Rowanna asked hoarsely, as Legolas steadily stroked a particularly sensitive spot, letting her ride the slowly rising current of desire.
"As long as you want me to, melethen."
Longer than she would ever have thought possible. And later again, and again; while between-times she did the same for him, unable to keep from smiling when he arched and cried out and his clear blue eyes went very, very dark...
At last, sated, they lay back in the shade and she slept; later, they swam again, floating on the pool's surface, then diving to feel the water's cool caress on their skin. Only when the stars were beginning to emerge into the deep blue above them, and owls were calling across the thickets, did they pull their crumpled clothes back on, take one last deep breath of the cool green scent of the grass, and climb reluctantly back out of the ravine.
"That," Rowanna sighed regretfully as they emerged, feeling the heat rising around them once again from the baked earth, "was perfect." She turned the little blue-green pebble over in her fingers.
"We can return," Legolas assured her, twining his fingers with hers and tilting her face up to kiss her. "In fact, rohiril, if I hear any further reports that you have been working yourself into the ground in this heat, most assuredly we will be returning..."
And over the course of that and many more Ithilien summers, return they did.
With many thanks to Curiouswombat, as ever, for beta.