9. The Hall of Fire
Note: There are references to the Silmarillion in this chapter but they are Erestor's back story and you do not need to know any of them. Spiced Wine, who posts on Archive of our Own and www. efiction.esteliel.de. writes the most sublime fics about Fëanor. I have been so influenced by her writing. She also has written a glorious spin-off of Sons of Thunder, Dark Star, published on both those websites.
Beta: Gloriously wonderful Anarithilien.
Thank you to reviewers -that's more like it! Especially Julsa (lovely to see you back) freddie23, Melethen, zoect, Fathless River, ThisLittlePiggyStayedatHome, Mary, Melusine, Emilie, WhereverWinterFell, Sapphirethief,gginsc, klc10, Emme, Karush, aRedbaroness, Marchwriter, leralonde, and all Guests. Aiwendiel, Spiced Wine, Naledi,Irishnite4, curiouswombat, danty, Narya, Alpha Ori, Melusine, It really helps to get reviews - like all writers, I am encouraged to write more with feedback and I am a rather needy writer. So thank you.
Warnings: Slash. Oh, and needless, pointless naked Glorfindel, in a bath. Nothing to do with the plot. Totally unnecessary.
Summary: The Council has taken place. Legolas has seen Berensul who is angry and unforgiving. Erestor has found Mithrandir who was with the Hobbits, to let him know the inner circle is meeting once again to talk through what they now know - that has just finished. Elrohir has just passed Legolas.
Chapter 9: The Hall of Fire
Legolas ran lightly down the steps and looked first one way, then the other for the glorious warrior who had passed and left him light-headed and breathless. But he had gone.
An Elf carrying a small harp hurried along a path below the terrace where Legolas stood. Another two Elves waited for him, looked behind and called to him in merry voices. Legolas thought of calling out, asking them if they had seen the warrior. But what would he say? And he had already made enough of a fool of himself, By this time the harper had caught up with the other Elves and he pushed between them, throwing each arm around the others; shoulders and steered them away so that they, laughing, made their way across a lawn and disappeared between the shrubs. Their voices and laughter faded into the evening.
A wave of loneliness passed over Legolas then and for a moment he forgot the glorious warrior and thought of home; the last of the harvest would be in now and there would be a feast in the Greenwood, in the clearings amongst the great beeches. Thranduil would wear a crown of autumn leaves and berries and Laersul and Thalos would look up at the same stars he hoped, and think of him. And as the younger Elves leapt the bonfire, perhaps Miriel and Lossar would remember the last time they had gathered around a bonfire, the smell of smoke and the flames leaping. Sighing, he paused beside a still pool and looked up at the sky where a crimson sunset bled into twilight. The calm peace of Imladris was like the chiming of clear bells, of stone and high mountains, and water rushing, flowing, and the air, all the winds of the world, the power of Air ...
He listened silently, and slowly, so he barely noticed, his breathing deepened and slowed, and caught the rhythm of the great soaring notes of the Song. It was so very powerful here. Like watching a storm breaking around him...And as before, the great chords surged and rang about him, pulled on him like the Sea he had never seen. He felt himself dragged beneath its huge rolling notes and was submerged by the great Power...and he took a breath and pulled himself back a little, and then a little more, for last time he had almost drowned in its Power, lost himself in its beauty...
And he breathed again and opened his eyes, let the Song fade back so it was bearable... that when he caught a faint discordant note that ran beneath everything...
He realised the noise had been with him for some time...frowning he tried to remember before...when had it not been in his head? Even as he thought the sound increased and he shook his head, it made him feel slightly off balance and disorientated. He heard it in the background like the whine of a wasp or mosquito, a tempo slightly too fast for his heartbeat, slightly too high for the beat of blood in his ears....it stirred and unsettled him and he looked around him, confused. What was it?
He had been knocked on the head once by an Orc, its great club brought down with ferocity that left him stunned and unable to move. It was like that a little now, but more subtle. He did not think it had been in his head in the Mountains, but then he had been too focused on listening for Orcs. Perhaps it had been the rockfall? Perhaps he had been hit on the head and even now the effect was making itself known. It would explain things, he told himself. He hoped it would not delay his departure though. If messengers were to cross the Mountains tomorrow he would go with them, come what may...
He sat quietly on the stone bench and stared into the still pool. Stars pricked out in the sky and he thought it was so peaceful here if only that ringing in his ears would stop. There was a sudden burst of song and music from somewhere, laughter.
He felt a little gnaw of resentment. Here was peace. No one feared attack. They did not even carry weapons. Yet every day the folk of the Wood were assailed, pushed back, slaughtered. He saw again Anglach's frightened eyes fix and glaze and the gurgle of air forced finally from his throat...that would never happen here. He clenched his jaw. His people were slaughtered while Elrond and his Noldor folk lived easily and safely in this Valley....And laughed at him, thought him a fool. He hung his head, the ringing in his ears grew louder and jangled at his nerves. He was a fool. He had brought shame upon his own people, his father...
It could be different....
Surely not. How could it be different?
If you had a Ring of Power...
But there were only the Three and who knew where those were. He shrugged off the thoughts like a blanket that was too hot.
There was a laugh high up. He turned angrily for the Noldor could well laugh at him, at his failure!
And then he saw Frodo, leaning on a balcony, his back to Legolas and laughing with one of the other Hobbits. A thin stream of smoke coiled from his mouth and then he turned and his wan little face peered down at Legolas, a flash of gold peeped from his shirt and Legolas reeled with shock. The Ring.
He glanced up at the Hobbits again. Frodo had seen him and raised his hand a little hesitantly as if unsure what Legolas' reaction would be. Without a second thought, Legolas gave a wide smile and lifted his hand in greeting. Immediately the ringing eased and he felt like a yoke had been lifted from his shoulders. Frodo looked surprised for a moment and then his own smile broadened. Almost immediately someone pulled at Frodo's sleeve and he looked away.
Legolas sat watching the Hobbits for a moment and then turned away himself, feeling that sudden pang of loneliness and homesickness again. Unlike the Hobbits, he didn't know anyone here and it was all just a bit too different to be comfortable. Everything was a bit too sleek and polished, luxurious and safe...He laughed at himself then. Too safe! And the resentment he had felt a moment ago vanished. It was good to know that somewhere was a sanctuary, for folk like the valiant Hobbits.
'It is good to meet a fellow traveller,' a voice came from his right, and the Man, Boromir of Gondor, stepped from the shadows where he had been standing. 'I have come a great distance too,' he continued and came to stand beside the bench where Legolas sat, as if he had been waiting for him.
It took Legolas aback for he had not known he was watched. He smoothed his hands over his hair a little self-consciously and wondered how long Boromir had been standing there, whether he had seen Legolas caught up in the Song. And if he did, what had he thought?
Legolas glanced at him sideways but the Man was looking up at the balcony where the Hobbits were gathered. He was silent for a while and then he said, 'Is it not strange that Isildur's Bane should fall into the hands of a Halfling?' Boromir shook his head in wonder. 'And it was in the Halls of your King for a while.'
Legolas did not speak, for it had crossed his mind too. How had they not known? He remembered again how Galion had never quite believed Bilbo's story of hiding unseen in their Halls...
But Boromir interrupted his thoughts again. 'Do you go to the Hall of Fire? There is story-telling and music I hear.'
Legolas realised suddenly that he had been almost discourteous and where Boromir was making an effort to make conversation, to be friendly, he had not uttered a single word. So he shook himself and remembered the manners that his father had drummed into him. 'Forgive me,' he said with a slight bow. 'Yes. I had thought to listen to the singing and Mithrandir will be there. I have to speak to him before I leave.'
'That will not be soon surely?' asked Boromir. 'Will you not help to ensure that the Ringbearer leaves safely, and in secret?'
For the first time Legolas thought beyond his own desire to go home. He looked up at Boromir and studied the Man's face with interest. He was tall for a Man and broad. His shorn hair was dark and his eyes grey, he looked a little like Aragorn. He had the same look of command, and was used to being obeyed, a soldier, thought Legolas and relaxed. He could understand that.
'For my part I would see the Ringbearer safe. I will accompany him south if that is what he wishes,' said Boromir. 'My journey lies that way and I would see this done properly if this is what we are to do.'
Legolas found himself impressed with the Man's nobility and he considered for a moment the danger that Frodo faced the moment he set foot out of the Valley. And he wondered if he should not offer his help too if it were wanted.
'You will do this though you spoke against it in the Council?' Legolas watched him and the Man fidgeted a little. 'Have you changed your mind?'
'No. I do think it is a gift, but I am a Man of deeds, not thoughts,' Boromir laughed self-deprecatingly and Legolas liked him even more for that. 'So I will bow to the wisdom of those better and wiser than me,' he said.
Legolas smiled widely and the Man blinked. 'Then you and I are of an accord,' he said. "I am not one of the Wise either and it occurred to me that it would be easier for one of the Eagles to take it and drop it into Mount Doom. But if Elrond and Mithrandir say this is a better way, who am I to question it?'
'You are a warrior too, of your Realm.' Boromir joined Legolas on the stone bench, and leaned back to stretch out his legs. He was not as tall as Legolas and much heavier, stockier, but Legolas thought he was probably a handsome Man.
'You should ride out in the morning with those of us who would clear the way if we can for the Ringbearer,' Boromir continued and although Legolas thought it strange that he did not use Frodo's name, he agreed that it seemed craven to abandon the Hobbit when there was so much danger ahead of him. Perhaps he could in some small way, lessen that.
'Do you leave in the morning? I will go with you if I am needed or can be useful,' he said and he thought it might too in some small way, recompense for his poor tidings.
'Of course you will be,' Boromir glanced sideways at him and then turned his gaze back to the darkening Valley. 'How can you not be? You fight the enemy every day as we do in my city.'
Legolas felt a sudden kinship. 'I am better amongst the trees hunting, or fighting. I am quite useful there my father says.' He smiled and a sudden wrench of homesickness twisted his stomach and he wanted to go home. 'I am not very good at councils,' he admitted.
Boromir laughed softly and there was genuine warmth. 'The same is said of me. I am a captain and amongst my men I am happiest. And my brother is by far the wiser of us, and the skilled diplomat.'
Legolas smiled. 'I have two brothers and both of them would have managed any of this a hundred times better than I,' he said fondly. 'My brother Thalos is renowned for his diplomacy. He could win silk off a spider! And my eldest brother, Laersul, is a warrior of great renown. He stood with our father at Erebor and led the battle.'
Boromir hesitated and then he looked at Legolas. 'I think you were treated hard by the council,' he said quietly. Legolas looked down. 'It is no shame to have suffered attack when you think you are safe within your own walls. You lost lives. Some of your own men, I think.' He paused and looked out over the Valley that stretched below them between the Mountains. 'I have lost friends too.' He turned and looked at Legolas smiling warmly. 'You acquit yourself well I think. You spoke well, you told us the horror without the detail, which none needed by that time. You made me at least, see that you have paid a price indeed for Gandalf's friendship.'
There was a burst of music and laughing from the open doors of the Hall of Fire and both turned their faces towards it for a moment, then looked back. Legolas saw how the Man's face had strange deep lines in the skin, on the cheeks and a crinkling around the eyes. Between his brows two deeper lines were set and he caught himself staring in fascination. He smiled widely and the Man's eyes looked dazzled for a moment.
Legolas shook himself. 'Come, let us go in and drink together, and hear the songs of Imladris for they are said to be fair minstrels, and I have yet to find Master Bilbo and pass on my father's greetings.'
So they pushed their way into the Hall where folk were already drinking and making merry. Loud, deep laughter came from the centre of the room and Legolas saw that the Dwarves had already settled in, taking most of the carved chairs. There were serving Elves rushing to fill the great tankards, to bring them wide platters of delicacies, and the Hobbits were sitting with the Dwarves. The fires seemed to roar in the Dwarves' presence, glowing on their faces and gleaming in their beards. They took up a great deal more room than their size suggested they should, thought Legolas. He shook his head, for that tinny noise suddenly surged in his ears and then subsided abruptly. He thought he should find a healer before he began the journey back. Was not Elrond the greatest of healers? But he could not bother so great a lord for so tiny an ailment.
There were harps playing and different voices in various parts of the Hall. There seemed to be many people here and Boromir stayed at his elbow.
Household Elves moved between the groups, pouring wine and passing plates of delicacies. Legolas saw that Elemé was near a table, leaning over and pouring ale into the tankard of one of the Dwarves, whose chestnut beard twitched as he talked. As Elemé tipped the heavy jug, it wobbled in her hand and for a moment it looked like she would drop it or spill ale over the Dwarf, but the Dwarf lifted his square hand and gently, gently steadied her. Legolas saw her look at him with sudden wonder, meeting the Dwarf's dark eyes and smiling. He bowed gallantly and took the heavy flagon from her and set it down on the floor. Legolas could not hear what he said to Elemé but she dipped her head and dropped a little curtsey to him. He inclined his head slightly so he could see the Dwarf better; he sat beside the important Dwarf with the heavy gold chain and had the same look of him about the eyes so Legolas thought he might be a relative. But then he was distracted by the way Elemé shifted and as she turned to serve another guest, her long dark hair gleamed in the candlelight and her gown caught on something and was pulled suddenly tight over her breasts and thighs for a moment. And then she pulled it free and it dropped around her again.
He knew he was staring because she glanced up as though she felt his eyes upon her and she smiled.
He smiled in return and inclining his head towards Boromir, murmured, 'Excuse me my lord, there is someone I must speak to.' Boromir made a noise that Legolas took to be understanding and made his way through the throng towards Elemé. She moved ahead of him, consciously swaying her hips he knew, and he smiled, watching her long hair falling down her back. And then he saw Berensul stop and speak to her. His green eyes flicked up to Legolas and hardened; he said something to Elemé in a low voice and Legolas saw her shrug and glance over her shoulder at him. He looked away then, uncomfortably and unsure of himself suddenly. Was Berensul never going to forgive him? And was he poisoning the rest of Imladris against him?
A tinny ringing started in his ears again and he frowned. It was distracting. And irritating. It made him feel impatient and angry. Who did Berensul think he was? Suddenly he had had enough. He would stop this.
He strode towards Berensul, pushing between the crowds assuredly until Berensul saw him and looked up, met his eyes and for a moment it was he who looked uncertain. Then hard resentment came down in his eyes again and as Legolas approached he turned to Legolas, unsmiling, cold.
'My lord?' he said and bowed, but there was no respect there and Legolas knew he was mocking.
Concern flickered across Elemé's lovely face but she said nothing. Berensul's mouth was a hard thin line, lips pressed close together and Legolas frowned.
'What is your pleasure, my lord?' Berensul said again and Legolas felt his unflinching insistence and dropped his gaze. This was not how he wanted it to end, for he remembered the passion and desire, and Berensul's yielding body and full lips. He felt a twitch of desire in his groin and lust pooled in his belly.
'Berensul.' Elemé lay her hand on Berensul's arm but he shook her off and gave her such a look that she fled.
'Have you really no forgiveness in your heart, Berensul?' Legolas said quietly so no other could hear. The Elf said nothing but turned slightly so he almost, but not quite, had his back to Legolas. An Elf standing closest to them glanced at them curiously but when Legolas looked at him, his fury rising, the Elf's eyes widened and he looked away. And when Berensul ignored him and went as if to leave, Legolas put out his hand and held him in a grip more used to knives and bows.
'Do you wish to dishonour me before my House?' Berensul whispered furiously. 'You have already shamed me.' Legolas felt his insides curl at the coldness but there was a fleeting expression on Berensul's face. Of hurt and regret and anger.
He did not know what to say and Berensul said nothing either. There was, after all, a limit to his guilt; in the Wood this would have been forgiven and he wondered that it seemed to burn so in the other's heart. And other eyes were drawn towards them now and Legolas felt the heat rise in his face.
Berensul's lip lifted in a curl of a sneer and something snapped in Legolas. He had had enough. He drew himself tall and thinned his mouth, eyes snapping green fire of his own and had he known it, the image of his father.
'Then you will attend me,' he said. 'Now.' He did not care particularly that he shouldered his way past a number of surprised Elves, nor did he care much that Berensul muttered angrily at him as he strode from the hall and out into the cold night air.
It was scented with lavender and mint and camomile, even this late in the year, and frost that came down from the mountains on a drift of air.. .and for a moment he thought he heard an eagle cry and a thrum of blood rushed through his ears. Almost he stopped. Almost he stopped to listen for Song thrilled through his veins and nearly sent him running, searching, up the wide stone steps, through bowers of fading roses ... but he did not for at that moment, Berensul caught up with him and pulled his arm, pulled him round to face him furiously.
'What are you doing?' Berensul demanded. 'How dare you command me!' He caught up with Legolas and grabbed at his shoulder, pulling him round.
Legolas turned and squaring his shoulders, faced Berensul. They were of a height and he was glad he could look Berensul in the eye now. But when he looked, he saw hurt and pride in those green eyes and instead of speaking he grasped Berensul firmly by the shoulders and pushed him against the wall and kissed him. Long and tenderly.
At last he felt Berensul soften and he pulled back. 'I am sorry,' he said, looking into his eyes and holding his gaze earnestly.
Berensul looked down. He did not pull away and Legolas took heart and leaned in closer. 'I did not think. If I had known what would happen, I would have told you. I did not think it mattered,' he said earnestly. 'I only expected to be here for one, perhaps two nights and then leave.' And when Berensul did not turn from or pull away he leaned in closer again and rested his cheek against Berensul's. Then he turned his face slightly to press his lips against the warm cheek and nudged him so he turned too and could press his mouth against Berensul's. 'Forgive me,' he murmured. 'I cannot bear this to still be between us.'
Berensul sighed and let his forehead drop to Legolas' shoulder.
'Tell me you forgive me,' Legolas said softly, more insistently.
Berensul finally drew back, but still he would not look Legolas in the eye. 'Perhaps you should stay longer, get to know me better.'
'Then I am forgiven?' Legolas asked. He breathed in relief, it did not sit well with him to have hurt anyone, least of all one who was kind. 'And I would like to know you better,' he said earnestly. At that Berensul finally looked at him and smiled.
'You have bewitched me,' said Berensul like he meant it. 'I cannot think of anything else.'
For a moment Legolas hesitated for he did not wish to break Berensul's heart but he looked into the sparkling, lively green eyes that were no longer hard and icy. There was no lovelorn yearning in those eyes, just lust, and Legolas laughed breathlessly and pulled Berensul around so it was Legolas now who leaned against the wall and was glad for it was cold against his hot skin. He pulled Berensul in for a kiss and Berensul let his hand fall and pressed it against Legolas' crotch. Biting his lip at the instant surge of desire, Legolas felt himself swell and burgeon, filling. He gripped the other Elf's arms and pulled him in deeper, slid his hand down over Berensul's hip and felt the curve of his buttock beneath his tunic. Berensul smelled of clean linen and the sandalwood soap he had used himself earlier.
'You like that...' Berensul murmured and then shifted so the pressure changed, the sharpness, the sensation. 'And that?' He leaned in against Legolas' neck and his hot breath was on his skin. 'I know you like this...' He turned his head so he could trace his tongue up Legolas' neck to just below his ear and Legolas heard himself gasp and his breathing grow heavier. He moved his hips and pulled Berensul even closer so Berensul's hand was harder against him and he tilted his head so he could kiss Berensul more deeply.
'Do you want to take me now? Here?' whispered Berensul and Legolas let his head fall back against the wall, half closed his eyes and nodded.
'I do, but ...' Legolas opened his eyes, frustrated and wanting. He reached out to grasp Berensul's hand, to pull him back. 'We should not. It is too much of a risk. You said that there are many who would mind and surely your place here would be at risk?'
Berensul let his long dark hair fall over Legolas' chest, mingle with Legolas' own long blond hair. 'I do not care. It will be exciting.' He smiled captivatingly and Legolas shook his head and bit his own lip for there was ripple of desire in his belly and excitement.
'And if we are seen?' Legolas asked with barely concealed lust and all reason flying on the wind. He had forgotten Esgaroth, forgotten all his indiscretion and Thranduil would surely never find out?
Berensul smiled again. 'Come then, into the shadows.'
Sudden sharp footsteps approached. They both started for an Elf came striding down the wide stone steps, his long night-silk hair flowed around him, loose, unbraided, to his waist and his sable cloak billowed from his shoulders like a storm. The air thrummed and Legolas felt his skin tingle like lightning had passed over him. He stared as the warrior passed, and as he had before, he felt his breath catch and blood surge.
The warrior strode past and as he did he glanced at them both, first at Berensul and then a long look at Legolas. He nodded cursorily, unsmiling, and did not stop.
'Who is that?' asked Legolas breathless, heart beating wildly in his chest so surely Berensul must hear it.
'That is Elrohir Elrondion.' Berensul looked away and his face was troubled.
'One of the Sons of Thunder?' Legolas asked, staring after him. Of course he should have known for the likeness to Elrond was startling, but he had not seen it before, too swept away by the presence, the glory of him to have noticed.
'That is what the Orcs of the Mountains call them,' Berensul said a little curtly but Legolas was too lost in wonder to notice why he did not speak proudly of the sons of his Lord.
'Every warrior of the Wood has heard of them,' Legolas stared after Elrohir. He touched his lips slightly where Berensul had kissed him but the desire that broke over him like a wave was not merely from the kiss.
Berensul sighed as if he knew. 'Listen to me,' he said and turned Legolas' face towards him with his finger. 'You are not the first to fall for the Sons of Thunder. And you will not be the last. But you are wasting your time.' He held Legolas' chin between his forefinger and thumb and looked earnestly into his eyes. He shook his head at the besotted, lost look he saw there and tutted. 'My Lord Elrohir has lost all his mirth, all his love, all his joy, and relentlessly he pursues vengeance. He has no lovers and spurns both maids and men... He does not love.'
Berensul paused and glanced after Elrohir anxiously as if afraid of being overheard, and he drew Legolas away from the Hall, to a lawn secluded by tall shrubs and the lingering scent of roses that seemed to drift in the gardens of Imladris, even so late in the year.
He lowered his voice to almost a murmur and Legolas had to lean in close to hear him. 'Be wary of that one. His brother is so courteous and pure, and although a fierce warrior, a healer first. And once, I am told, Elrohir was the same, the light of the Lady Celebrian's life. But when she was brought home so maimed and hurt, all the joy went from this House and the Sons of Elrond went on their quest for vengeance.' He lowered his voice even more and their breath mingled in the cold air. 'Even here there are those troubled by it. They say that Elrohir enjoys the slaughter and that his sword sings.' He paused and looked at Legolas. 'I should not have said so much. It is disloyal. They, the family, have suffered so much. Who can blame him?'
Legolas lifted his head and looked back to where Elrohir had gone. It seemed to him a trail blazed in his wake and he understood. And he did not blame him either.
Elrohir had seen the Mirkwood Elf twice now since he and Elladan had returned from the Wild, their blades notched and blunted and Elrohir's blood still full of bitterness and lust. The news that Isildur's Bane had been found and was now in Imladris had done nothing to gentle him. Instead there was a nervous excitement that fluttered in his chest; the One had been found. It was here. Sauron's one precious thing....it would destroy him were it to be unmade.
It had been uppermost in his thoughts when he saw the Mirkwood Elf.
The first time he saw him Elrohir had not even noticed the Elf until he drew level; the sun had been behind Elrohir and suddenly blazed over the Mirkwood Elf, stroked his long hair to molten gold, lit those strange green eyes. A green-gold light seemed to flood the air so it was like walking through a forest glade where sunlight filtered through the new leaves...beech leaves, Elrohir had thought as he strode away and did not stop but turned his head to stare...he noted how open was his lovely, fearless face; the straight nose, high cheekbones, full sculpted lips and generous mouth.
Now here he was again and this time Elrohir knew it was the youngest son of Thranduil. And he was with Berensul, Elrohir thought with contempt as he approached. It would be no secret what Berensul had been doing with him. They said that in Mirkwood, they were more dangerous, less wise; they said they were promiscuous and indiscreet. Elrohir had noted how close Berensul stood to the Elf, almost touching, the taste of Woodelf still on his mouth no doubt, the feel of his skin still on his fingers...Elrohir's lip curled in contempt; he could almost smell them as he passed, musk and sweat, could almost see them, sweat on gleaming skin, naked, limbs entwined, tongues, hands, long hair tangled pale gold and dark...
Elrohir's fists clenched and did not stop, but he took a longer look at the Elf this time; and the long green eyes widened when they saw him. Elrohir gave but a slight, perfunctory nod that merely acknowledged that he had seen them.
But a flood of lust coiled in his belly and loins and he did not pause, did not stop, his fingers curled into fists and he relentlessly squashed the image of long pale hair tangled with night-silk black, raven and gold....It came too close to the secret fear he stored in his heart.
He felt Aícanaro hiss softly in his sheath and let his hand fall on the sword's pommel. But it did not rest...a thrum through the steel tingled his fingertips and lust uncoiled, unsatisfied, bloody and violent. Even the massacre of goblins they had found in the Wild had not sated the darkness of the blade. Even though Elrohir had impaled a still living goblin upon a lance and left it twitching, gibbering and howling as a warning to others, was Aícanaro as unsatisfied as he?
The armoury door was ajar and light spilled onto the path, silvered already with frost although it was still only autumn. He shoved it open impatiently and saw that Elladan stood there in the candlelight, head bent as he looked over his own sword, Alcarinwë. His long hair fell in a sheet over his shoulders and he was tall and straight, a reflected image of Elrohir himself until Elladan raised his head and smiled. The sweetness of Elladan's smile always took Elrohir aback, for it was so unlike his own unsmiling grimness and his mouth twisted ironically.
'It is well that our swords are sharp and bright for this journey,' Elladan said in way of explanation for his presence. 'You will go with Aragorn of course?' He stood at the whetting stone, small wheels of stone mounted so one could turn it and hold the blade against it so it gradually honed the steel. His foot worked the pedal that turned the stone and a trickle of water kept the blade cool.
'Of course.' Elrohir unsheathed dark Aícanaro and weighed it in his hand, feeling the curve of the hilt, the thickness of it like it had been made for him, though it had not. 'This is his greatest test and I would not abandon him now.'
'Nor I.' Elladan bent over the whetting stone, and lay his blade gently against it. 'Glorfindel surely will go with us. And perhaps Erestor.'
Elrohir did not look up but watched the blade sharp on the stone, soothed by the sparks that flew from the blade. 'Frodo has an esquire with him. Samwise. He will go to wait upon Frodo. And Mithrandir of course.'
'Father will choose some others to go with him.' Elladan spoke softly but it would have had the same effect had he shouted and bellowed. Elrohir stiffened at the mention of his father and Elladan glanced at him and looked away again.
'There is the Man too. From Gondor. Boromir,' he said thoughtfully. 'He is going South anyway.'
Elrohir frowned. 'Denethor's son.' Neither spoke for a moment, remembering how Denethor had been when Aragorn dwelt for a while in Gondor and fought in her army.
'Will Denethor remember Thorongil I wonder,' Elladan tilted his head and changed the angle of his blade slightly, carefully angled the blade against the whetting stone, turning it often and its soft scrape and whir was strangely soothing.
'Sauron's fall does not guarantee Denethor will yield the throne,' Elrohir said darkly. 'And Aragorn will still have no army to challenge him.' Elrohir watched the sparks fly and the white metal of his brother's sword seemed as pure as he was.
'And our promise to Arwen?'
The brothers' eyes met like lightning. 'We will stand by her, keep our promise. Even if we fall beside Aragorn, we will have kept our word.'
Elrohir's eyes hardened to ice. 'What does it matter what Elrond thinks? He sits by and lets the world happen.' Celebrián's ghost almost shimmered between them and Elrohir clenched his teeth remembering the thinness, the faraway look in her eyes that would not meet his for the years Elrond had uselessly stood by and let her fade....unable to heal her soul. And then given up and let her go.
And now the healing Elrond tried to pour like a balm over Elrohir served only to infuriate him; had it not been useless for his poor damaged mother? How dared he! Elrohir did not want healing, he did not want to forget, he did not want to let those memories dim and fade. He needed them to spur him on to greater vengeance, and he and Elladan would not have returned except for the news that Nazgul had entered the Valley and they had turned back from the Wilds and ridden with haste.
'He is acting now,' Elladan observed. 'Destroying Isildur's Bane will destroy Sauron forever. At last.' He lifted his frost-white sword and squinted along the blade. 'All these unexpected visitors, they have thrown Erestor into turmoil.' He raised his grey eyes to Elrohir's and smiled mischievously and instantly Elrohir felt his heart lift and the violent lust that coiled in his belly slunk away. Elladan's own sweet calm soothed him and he smiled, for he loved his brother.
'Erestor is never in turmoil.'
'True. I suppose I mean the household. Dwarves have drunk all the beer, the Hobbits are eating all the food and the Woodelf is corrupting the staff.' He grinned and picked up his own whetting stone and lay it on the wide bench. A small bottle was already open on the bench and Elladan poured a tiny amount over his stone and lay his sharp sword against it now. Elrohir grunted in sort of agreement and let himself still. The grinding of stone on metal was soothing. 'Legolas Thranduillion seems to have set all the gossips' tongues loose,' he observed, concentrating on the bright sword. 'Have you met him yet?'
Elrohir said nothing but his thoughts lingered on the wide green eyes, the pale hair that swept down his straight back and a violent urge swept over him, making him almost tremble...Bile rose suddenly in his throat.
He forced it down. 'An Elf from Mirkwood...he is nothing. It is as Aragorn says; Mirkwood failed in our trust.' Elrohir paced the small area restlessly. He wanted to unsheathe dark Aícanaro but restrained himself. 'They are too busy drinking and feasting and whoring.'
Elladan glanced up at him in surprise and then dropped his gaze back to his sword. 'He is an archer of some note, Erestor says. And he crossed the mountains on his own when he companions were hurt.' Elladan picked up a small piece of sword-grit paper, sand glued onto one side and stroked it over the frost-white blade of Alcarinwë. 'He pursued the Orcs that attacked their home well into the South, to the shadows of Dol Guldur,' he added, concentrating on polishing his sword now so its bright metal gleamed in the lamplight.
He spent a little while longer polishing the blade and Elrohir watched silently, quelling the violence that surged through his groin and swelled his cock. He clenched his teeth and fists and wondered why it was now.
He caught Elladan watching him with a slight smile on his clear, lovely face. Ironically, Elrohir lifted one black brow in quizzical imitation of their father and Elladan laughed aloud then. He let his head tip back slightly when he laughed, which he did often, and then his sparkling grey eyes rested upon Elrohir.
'You are thinking too much,' he said lightly and slapped Elrohir on the chest. 'Leave Aícanaro and take off the cuirass and all this weighty mail and feel something other than War. Let us go to the Hall and listen to Dwarves singing. I like their deep voices.'
Elrohir shook his head slightly and smiled back. 'Very well. I will go with you. Gloín is amongst them whom I recall when they were here with Thorin Oakenshield.' He unbuckled his scabbard and laid Aícanaro on the bench where the smiths would find it the next morning. Elladan lay his own sword alongside.
As they left, Elrohir could not help but turn his head and look at Aícanaro and it seemed to him that his brother's frost-white Alcarinwë dimmed a little beside his own dark blade.
Elrond removed his circlet and placed it carefully on the dresser, rubbing his temples and wondering why his head pounded. He shucked off his heavy robes and threw them on the wide, empty bed. He looked at the bed for a moment. It had been so long. Celebrián would have known what to say, soothed him with a word, or a cool hand...He looked down knowing it would not be necessary had she been here.
He poured himself a glass of thin white wine from his own vineyards on the lower slopes of the mountains. It had a taste of steel that cut through richness and that he liked.
He sighed and shook his head, and pulled a serviceable tunic from a pile of clothes shoved over a chair. He pulled it on and chose a wide leather belt, fastening it and pulling it tight. More comfortable now, Elrond closed his hand over Vilya, let her warmth and power suffuse his own limbs now, soothe him.
Vilya always calmed him.
Even as Elrohir always distressed him.
He always knew when his sons neared the Valley, and always he threw out all the power of Vilya towards them, pulling them home, like a magnet. But whilst Elladan's calm blue peace reached out to him, the confused anger of Elrohir repelled him, throw him off like he was besieged. It always hurt. And now, when so much teetered on the brink of disaster, he gently pulled away and let Elrohir come to him. He waited, wishing they would come to him sooner, to confide in him...to rest their weary heads against his chest as they had done so long ago when they were children. But no longer.
They came to him now out of duty, not out of need or love. Usually it was terse, brief, a report no more. Usually Elladan stood silently by until Elrohir had given his report. But this time it was Elrond telling them of the Nazgul, of the discovery of the One Ring, and then as always, Elrohir had turned furiously, blaming Elrond somehow that he did not destroy it sooner, did not wrest it from Isildur and cast it himself into Mount Doom. Eru knew how much Elrond wished that himself. But he had no comfort from Elrohir who left in a whirl of furious energy, trailing his crimson fury and bitter anger like a banner, a long ribbon of fire. And Elrond was left feeling, as he always did, that he had failed his child somehow...
Elladan gave him a distressed look and reached out to his father gently, briefly, but then followed his brother soon after.
Elrond let them go, with regret and with no way of reaching out to each other across the hurt and pain of their shared loss. He turned away from himself in those moments, wondering how it was that he could heal others so easily yet could not heal his own bereaved family...how it was that he could not reach their souls.
His thoughts wandered now in his fatigue. It had been an already exhausting day without the added distress of his sons; the council had ended with Frodo saying he would take the Ring and it was clear that not only Mithrandir, his old friend, but Aragorn too would go. And the Man from Gondor, Boromir, son of Denethor.
The inner council meeting that had continued afterwards had been irritable and frustrating, with Erestor provoking Cirdan's emissary, Galdor. Elrond frowned. He would have to speak to Erestor and warn him to leave Galdor be. Another time Erestor would have agreed with Galdor that Thranduil had deliberately kept knowledge from them but he seemed to have been beguiled by the child Thranduil had sent to bear the news of their failure. In the end, Elrond had left them, saying he would greet his returning sons, for he had not seen them all Summer, although he knew they had travelled a while with Aragorn. It hurt even more than that they had stayed away.
He sipped his wine quietly, letting the cold steel taste bite the edge of his tongue, warm his throat, drive away those thoughts. It was the wine he had fetched from the cellar the day before, when he found Legolas Thranduillion half naked in his wine cellar. He smiled. He did not think he would ever forget such a sight; wild colour coiling around the naked chest, down one shoulder and curling around his waist, disappearing beneath the waistband of his breeches. Not a child, he corrected himself. Young. Untutored perhaps, unlettered...less wise, but no child. And though he had been brought up by the Sons of Feänor, Elrond knew the Silvan folk of Mirkwood had their own wisdom. He savoured a mouthful of wine, let it soak his mouth, and thought of the gleaming naked skin, with its wild swirl of colour coiling sensuously about the Woodelf's lean, young body...
Thoughtfully he opened the door from his rooms into his marble terrace and the thermal pools he had designed for his own use but generously shared with those closest to him. This small luxury that he owed himself; he went there to replenish his own energy when he had given everything to another in healing. It was lovely, this suite of rooms, decadent he knew and indulgent. But he forgave himself the luxury for he had sought peace when Gil-Galad fell and Imladris had brought him that sanctuary. Here Air met Water in all its forms and Vilya was replenished by it, had led him here all those years ago, her spirit reaching for this place as if it were Magic. Vilya showed him how the Elements were brought together in this place; deep in the heart of the Mountains was Fire and above him, Air which was wild and sweet after the taint of Mordor. Waterfalls like silver ribbons fluttered in the moonlight, and deep pools were still and reflected the moon, silver and black, like the armour worn by his sons. As distant and as far from him as the Moon, he thought sadly.
He stood for a moment, thoughts returning again to them; it was always Elrohir who led, like a storm, full of anger and bitterness at their mother's torment, full of resentment towards Elrond himself, that dark, untrustworthy blade in his hand and Elrond saw only shadows around his son. And Elladan followed, his sweet son, the healer, who tempered his brother's fury...And then there was Arwen, who was already lost to him and was a shadow on the edge of his dreams.
He opened the glass doors onto the terrace and stood in the evening light. The air from the Mountains was clear, with a drift of frost. He pulled open his shirt and let the moonlight and cold air touch him lightly.
The night unrolled above him, clouds pushed back to reveal the glittering sky and there was the Mariner...He dipped his head, hardly able to look and in this moment of solitude and quiet, took out his own resentment and explored the bitterness that always pierced him as that star rose. He did not believe it was his father. It was a tale, that was all. But the child in him wished so hard sometimes that he had not been left alone by all he loved...they had all left him, or soon would. He could not remember his parents, but he had lost to the Void the bright shining souls that burned and flared in the world, that were the family who brought him up*...He saw the same fire in Elrohir, saw the same obsessive intensity and power, feared it would destroy Elrohir as it had destroyed the Sons of Fëanor. And that his sweet Elladan who would not abandon his brother, as the sons of Fëanor would not abandon their Oath, would follow Elrohir on the paths of Men.
He would lose them all.
He wondered if the Valar had intended to curse his House as thoroughly as he felt they had. It was a bitterness in his heart still and he found, in the stillness of the quiet moments where there was only him and Vilya, for those who were most precious to him, he would gladly pay any price...
The moment trembled, for he had here in his House the One Ring. And Vilya felt it.
It would be easy...there was only Gandalf who would oppose him. Vilya was more powerful...she harnessed the power of the Air...
A cold breeze stroked him, brought him back to himself. He blinked. It had been working on him all the time he had been with Frodo. The perfect gold, the perfect roundness of It against Frodo's skin...Such perfection, such gold...so precious...It would be easy...
He drank deeply letting the wine warm his throat and chest and the taste soak his mouth, distract him from those dangerous temptations. How easily It had slipped beneath his awareness, he thought, and he shivered. It could not stay here. He could not allow it. But was Frodo really strong enough? Even with Mithrandir and Aragorn to keep him safe?
Rubbing his eyes wearily, he went through the glass doors and stopped dead. It drove all thoughts of the One from his mind.
Someone was already there, lying in the water. He could see their head resting on the side, bright gold hair drifted on the water, an arm stretched along the side of the pool. And for a heart-freezing moment of yearning and loss, he thought, no merely wished, it was Celebrián. He felt a pang of losing her again. Over the long years, he had grown accustomed to the dull ache just below his ribs where he sometimes thought his heart had been ripped out.
Glorfindel lifted his head and gave his lovely smile. Elrond looked away to hide the disappointment but Glorfindel always knew. He heard the sound of water heaving and then washing the sides of the pool and knew that Glorfindel had pulled himself out of the water, would try to offer him comfort, but he did not want it. It was churlish but there were times he could not help himself. He could easily close these lovely pools to anyone else, but it seemed a crime to not share the luxury. And both Erestor and Glorfindel came here sometimes.
'Forgive me, old friend, it is ...one of those times.'
Glorfindel patted him lightly on the shoulder, wetness on his skin and warmth from the touch. Elrond turned in time to see the hard, lean body, muscles sliding under skin as the warrior wrapped a towel around his waist and turned back to Elrond.
'I know. I should not have startled you.' Glorfindel sat on a wooden bench beneath the rows of towels and robes and stretched out his long legs. His hair was dark gold now and wet and clung to his skin and those eyes that had seen...everything, were fixed on Elrond so he suddenly felt very young, as young as that child of Thranduil. He shook his head and gave a wry smile, and came to sit next to Glorfindel. Drops of water beaded on his skin.
'I thought you were her,' he confessed.
Glorfindel said nothing but rose and fetched an open bottle of wine and two goblets. He sat back down and held out one glass to Elrond and took another for himself. He drank and then gazed out of the open window at the fading sun, the evening emerging slowly over the mountains, stealing across the valley.
'Are you surprised?' he said eventually. 'The Ring is here. It seeks to find the chinks in your armour. She is the chink in your armour.' He drank slowly. 'As she is the chink in all our armour. Your sons...'
'My sons!' Elrond said in a choked voice full of distress. 'What do they do? They seek revenge they say. But they seek their own destruction in self-hatred and remorse. They cannot see it,' he finished uncertainly. That was not his voice speaking surely? Those inner fears had not be said?
Glorfindel was quiet but he slid a sidelong glance to Elrond that confirmed his fears.
'Will you go with him?' Elrond asked. 'You have Power to stand against the Nazgul, Angmar and his acolytes. Against Sauron too if need be.'
There was a silence and Glorfindel pulled his long hair back and squeezed out the water. Then he stood and he was tall and fair and his face was fearless. He looked down at Elrond and to Elrond it seemed for a moment as if he were one of the Ainur who lay his hand gently on Elrond's shoulder.
'Do you think I should?' Glorfindel asked kindly. 'The task falls to you to choose companions who will be suitable for the Quest. You said yourself it must be done in stealth and in secret. Choose those who are secret and stealthy then.' He gave his beautiful smile that was so full of joy, and it was for Elrond, as if he had glimpsed beyond the Veil to the silver shores where there was no grief.
The door banged loudly and a long lean shadow leaped on the marble walls. It was followed by Erestor who gave a wolfish smile and draped his long lean body over the opposite bench. 'You rascals,' he leered breaking the moment. 'What have you been up to without me?'
Elrond merely smiled but Glorfindel huffed uncharacteristically. 'Sometimes, Erestor, your mind is so much in the gutter that you cannot see what is in front of you.' He thrust a glass of wine in the counsellor's hand. 'Have they finished their discussion?'
Erestor snorted. 'They have stopped if that is what you mean. That Galdor can talk! And he says nothing. He is a fool!' he declared and took a long drink. 'Mithrandir smoked all the time and Aragorn is still furious about Gollum. You two sneaked off quick enough,' he added in an exaggerated whine.
'Galdor is the emissary of Cirdan,' Elrond reminded him seriously and Erestor pah'd. Sometimes Elrond wondered that Erestor could be such a skilled diplomat in public and so dismissive and intolerant in private.
'You did not hear him.' Erestor muttered. 'He said it was no great loss that the Woodelves guards had been slain or taken!' He could not keep the outrage from his voice. 'Even Aragorn was shocked.'
Elrond stared at Erestor, surely Galdor could not have said such a thing, and then he sighed, knowing it was just the sort of thing Galdor might have said in the heat of a debate, say argument rather, with Erestor who would have goaded him. 'Whatever he may have said, he is still Cirdan's emissary, and please Erestor, treat him with respect.' Glorfindel looked away. There was great sadness in his eyes and Elrond knew he would have been grieved to hear that the Mirkwood guards had been so brutally attacked. Either slain or taken...it chilled the heart to think what those taken would have endured. And the expression on young Thranduillion's face had been enough.
'You are fiery tonight,' Glorfindel observed with misgiving, disapproval. 'Has young Legolas sparked something in your cold heart?'
'He would merely be a tasty snack,' Erestor responded quickly as he was expected and smacked his lips and Elrond wondered at that. Those who did not know Erestor thought and said many things about him but he never showed the slightest concern what anybody thought. He courted it, invested time in creating this persona; the rumours, the legend even. But Elrond knew that deep within, an old hurt flamed. Erestor was not cold. He burned but it was a slow flame now after so long. Once he had flared and leaped and scorched as much as any other but Elrond knew he had learned patience. So it might well suit him that the Valley thought he had Legolas Thranduillion in his sights.
And if he were honest, it was a temptation to Elrond himself who had never wanted anyone since he met Celebrian, not even in the aftermath of battle. His heart was completely hers. But the Ring, he knew now, distorted things and if he found the courage of the silvans attractive, and he wanted to know more, that was all it was. He thought there was something precious in the Woodelf.
Erestor however had a rather more predatory expression on his face.
'You look thoughtful,' Elrond said casually and Erestor looked up.
'He has shown his mettle, has he not? He has fought under the Shadows of Mirkwood, gone to the Tower itself in pursuit of one of his men, and crossed the Mountains on his own. Is that not enough?' he asked and Glorfindel shook his head in disapproval.
'Erestor, please. For once show restraint. He is a child!'
'He is a Woodelf,' Erestor responded swiftly, too swiftly. 'Why? Are you hungry enough yet yourself, Glorfindel? How long has it been for you?' Elrond raised an eyebrow at that deliberate wounding and wondered that Erestor felt he had to spar with Glorfindel.
'You are Glorfindel the Golden,'Erestor continued and swooped upon Elrond's half drained glass and downed the rest of the wine quickly. He wiped his mouth on the back of his hand. 'You could crook your finger and he would come running.' He laughed but there was no bitterness. Erestor's hawkish eyes briefly met Elrond's but there was understanding and something else. 'Why do you resist?' he asked but he meant Glorfindel. 'He is willing and beautiful. You would disappoint him?'
'He is young, younger even than Elrond's children!' Glorfindel always had trouble with that, thought Elrond and Erestor was goading him, pushing him beyond that immense calm and patience. That had never stopped Erestor either.
'Hardly difficult! If that is to be your test you will never lie with anyone again.' Erestor lifted one elegant eyebrow and snagged the open bottle, poured the last of the wine into Elrond's empty glass. 'This is the good stuff,' he said wryly, and then more gently, he turned to Elrond himself. 'And you, Elrond? She would never have wanted you to be so lonely you know. He is lovely and sweet, and a little naive but no innocent. No one need know.'
Elrond recoiled. Too much, tonight at least, thought Elrond. And even though he knew his old companion and friend only wished him well, he could not speak of it, did not want to even be reminded of it. He turned away from them both and busied himself with pouring wine, wiping away the marks left on the table by the open bottle. Wine stains, a perfect ring...
'You and Elrohir are so alike,' Erestor's voice continued softly behind him. He heard Glorfindel remonstrate quietly but Erestor was in one of those moods that took him, where he said everything. 'You both run furiously from it but you cannot escape it. Guilt. It follows. Inexorably.'
'And you would know,' snapped Elrond unforgivably.
'Yes,' Erestor answered mildly. 'So take it from one who knows as well as you.' It took away the sting and the amber eyes caught his, held his gaze softly so he saw the memories, the shared loss and pain, remembered how they had clung together and wept.
His old friend unfolded his long lean body gracefully, for he had always been graceful, thought Elrond, and bowed. But there was no meaning in it, he did it for effect, for show, for the drama of it, and Elrond smiled then.
'Be gentle with him if you pursue him, Erestor.'
Erestor cast him a swift look and lifted an eyebrow ironically. 'He is a Woodelf, Elrond. I do not think he will break.'
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