12. A Compromise Reached
As they marked time, waiting for Melpomaen to heal enough to resume their journey, they carefully avoided discussing what they would do upon their return home. Neither had thought of anything that would allow them to live together openly and yet permit them passion. Rather than argue about impossibilities, they tacitly agreed to refrain from speaking of it for a time. Haldir thought of little else, though, worrying at the problem like a sore tooth; whereas for his part Melpomaen tried not to think of it at all, and hoped for some inspiration.
On the fifth day their fragile peace ended. Haldir had gone down to the stream that morning and returned with more fish for Melpomaen to prepare. As they sat after their noon meal, conversing companionably and trying to outdo each other in how many childhood stories they could recall, Melpomaen suddenly straightened.
"Ssh!" he hissed, interrupting his partner's tale of How the Oyster Learned to Grow Pearls. (1) "Listen!"
Haldir tilted his head to one side, concentrating. "Yes," he agreed quietly. "There's something out there, close by. Too loud for a deer; possibly a bear. Or if we are unlucky, Orcs."
He stood and reached for his bow, stringing it in one smooth motion. "I will have to go out to find it, whatever it may be. But I'm not sure whether it would be better for you to come with me or to stay here."
"I'll come with you," said Melpomaen firmly. "I can wield a blade one-handed, but if I were to be attacked by a whole patrol of Orcs with you gone, I fear I might be overwhelmed, and I could not even climb a tree to improve my position."
"All right," agreed Haldir.
They moved softly through the trees, keeping as much as possible to the stands of evergreens where fallen needles carpeted the ground. Haldir led the way. Melpomaen fixed his eyes on the golden head before him, and hoped that their visitor would prove to be simply some forest creature, rather than an Orc-troop unusually far from Dol Guldur.
Behind a thicket of bramble laden with dark ripe fruit, Haldir stopped and gestured for Melpomaen to move beside him.
"Do you see?" he breathed into his friend's ear, inclining his head.
Melpomaen tilted his own head to look in the direction indicated, and exhaled noiselessly in relief. It was only a bear moving slowly through the trees; something to be wary of, indeed, but probably needing only to be avoided. A bear had nothing like the potential danger in a band of Orcs, who would require being killed one and all, lest one escaping should return with more of its kind to overwhelm them. And unlike Orcs, the bear would most likely avoid their fire rather than investigate it.
To Haldir he nodded, then pointed back towards their camp with his good hand, raising his eyebrows in question.
Haldir looked undecided for a moment, then shrugged and nodded in reply. He led the way back as carefully as they had come, and when they were far enough from the creature, he spoke.
"By the Horn of Oromë, that was a stroke of luck for us. Did you see, he was angling towards the north, away from our camp. Probably he knows a good place to cross the stream, and maybe catch himself a meal of fish along the way."
"Yes," agreed Melpomaen. "We do seem to have had good luck on this journey – for the most part," he added, glancing ruefully at his left arm. "I hope that our passage back through Mirkwood is as uneventful as the outward trip. I suppose two travelers alone have a better chance to avoid unwanted notice, at least."
"Certainly we do. The road we follow was once used by many, Men and Elves and Dwarves even, carrying goods of all sorts from one side of the forest to the other. But the evil creatures that lurk in Dol Guldur, Orcs and other foul wights, soon learned to watch the road and harry those who traveled it. Now any who wish to cross the forest mostly prefer the road far to the north near Thranduil's kingdom. I chose not to follow that route since it took us somewhat out of our way; but now I wonder if that was a wise decision," said Haldir.
"Are you suggesting that we return to the north and take this other path instead?" asked Melpomaen, lengthening his stride slightly as he saw their camp ahead.
Haldir shook his head. "No; we have been delayed enough already. To retrace our course now would undoubtedly add at least a month's travel, and I am less familiar with that way. When I looked at Lórindol's maps to refresh my memory of these regions, I concentrated on the southern parts of the forest."
"But if it would be safer," Melpomaen persisted, "should we not at least consider it? Would it not be better to arrive late with welcome news, than never to arrive at all?"
Stepping across to the fire, Haldir smiled at his partner. "And you have no other reasons to wish to lengthen our journey? No, no," he held up his hand, "I feel the same. I would prefer to spend a greater time alone with you as well. But summer is over, and that must be considered. I wouldn't wish to be caught in the winter snows to the north! Moreover our food supplies are limited; though we can supplement them through hunting as we have done, that is likely to slow us somewhat too. Speaking of which," he fingered one of the strips of meat still hanging above the fire, "these are well-dried, and should be taken down and packed for travel. Come, Maen, tell me a story while I do so."
"All right." Melpomaen moved to sit near the fire where Haldir could hear him easily, yet where he would be out of the other Elf's way as he worked. "What kind of a story do you want?"
"Oh, something cheerful. I know, tell me of some amusing incident from your childhood or youth," Haldir said.
"A story of my childhood?" Melpomaen thought for a few moments. "Very well, I have one for you.
"When I was, oh, perhaps twenty years old, so still hardly more than a babe, my parents took me to a large party. (2) I do not remember the occasion, although I think it may have been some family celebration, since both my siblings were there with their spouses. In any case I remember long tables laden with food, and a great noise with all the grown-ups happily singing and talking. When we sat to eat, I was next to my elder brother.
"Baran was known for his great appetite, especially for sweets. At the end of the meal the hostess asked him how large a serving of berry tart he would like, and he said only half-jokingly that he could probably manage a third of a tart, all by himself. She was sitting at the head of the table, so she cut a tremendous slice to pass down to him.
"Now, berry tart happened to be my very favorite sweet, and when the plate reached me, I simply kept it and began eating. After I had taken a few bites, everyone around realized what I was doing, and began saying, ‘Ah, Melpomaen, a little fellow like you cannot possibly eat that great helping!' But I did. Baran had to content himself with a smaller portion, which was all that was left. For years after, my ability to tuck away the sweets was a staple joke whenever my brother visited our parents." Melpomaen ended the story and grinned at his friend, who was laughing aloud.
"That was a good tale," said Haldir, setting the last of the dried meat on a clean cloth and carefully binding it into a tight parcel. "Greedy little Maen!" He crawled over to poke Melpomaen playfully in the belly. "It is a good thing you no longer eat so much, or instead of a lean and hardened ranger, you would be as plump as a quail in autumn!"
Melpomaen put his arm around Haldir's neck. "Greedy, was I? Not so greedy then as now." He drew the other to him for a long kiss. "My arm may not yet be healed," he murmured as they broke apart, "but it pains me far less than it did – and all else is well, now. We need no longer refrain from love, if we but take a little care."
Haldir drew a finger lightly along the line of Melpomaen's jaw, then up to his lips, which parted to allow the tip of it entrance into the moist warmth within. Melpomaen licked gently at the pad, then sucked hard, his questioning eyes looking into his partner's.
"If you are certain, meldanya, then how can I refuse?" Haldir said, feeling a pull at his groin in answer to the pull on his fingertip. He withdrew his hand and leaned forward for another kiss. For the past several days he had avoided even such simple caresses, not wanting to arouse unfulfillable longings in either of them. Now, though, he was once again free to taste the sweetness of Melpomaen's mouth, the salt of his skin, the bitterness of his seed; and he could scarcely contain his hunger.
"But I do need you to help me get this tunic off," Melpomaen reminded him, after a long interval of kisses strong and deep as Ulmo's waters and caresses to face and neck like the breath of Manwë in tender springtime.
"Of course. Just turn a little so that I can reach," said Haldir, deftly sliding off the linen garment. He caught his breath. Though Melpomaen's body was long familiar to him, from the beginning of their partnership in the company, still the sight teased him with beauty. Even the binding around one arm seemed only to set off the perfection of lithe frame and hard muscle. He knelt up to remove his own clothes, letting Melpomaen manage his other garments for himself, then lay down and urged his lover to lie beside him, face to face, breast to breast, thigh to thigh.
"If I jar your arm, do not fail to tell me," Haldir admonished, running his hand along Melpomaen's left flank, down to his hipbone and around to the firm buttock behind.
Melpomaen hummed in his throat in reply, his eyes closing as the familiar and recently denied touch evoked shivers of longing through his body. He opened them again when Haldir kissed the tip of his nose.
"I mean it, Maen," Haldir continued. "I will not permit you to reinjure yourself by accident, and I don't want you to feel any pain – to think I had caused you hurt would lessen any pleasure for me."
"As my captain commands," said Melpomaen impudently. "I will be good, I promise."
Haldir rolled his eyes, but pulled his lover closer until skin touched skin for the length of their bodies. The warmth of Melpomaen's body was answered by his own heat, blood pumping through all his limbs, yet centered where he could feel a hardness that matched his own. He reached down to stroke them both together.
"Dír," whispered Melpomaen.
"What is it?" said Haldir, cupping his hand around the soft pouch below.
"I love you. I can hardly say how much; it is like a flood all though me, washing me clean of all other desires. I never want to be without you, do you understand?" Melpomaen trembled at Haldir's exploring touch.
Haldir kissed his eyes. "I do, believe me, I do. I promise that I will never willingly be separated from you, Maen."
"I will not leave you, either. Ah," he sighed. "Wait, Dír, hold a moment." He fought to restrain his arousal, lest he spill too quickly before Haldir was ready. "I would have you inside me, as close as if we were babes in the womb together."
"But your arm?"
"If you lie to my other side, all will be well."
The older Elf studied Melpomaen's face for a moment, then nodded. "I will get the oil, then." He sat up, tucking his hair behind his ear, and rising went to search for the flask in his pack. Returning, he said, "Less than half the bottle remains; we shall have to be careful with it, or find something else that may serve."
"Perhaps the grease of a deer or a rabbit would do; they are well-fattened, this time of year." Melpomaen shrugged the problem aside. Once Haldir had worked out the tight stopper, he reached for the flask. "Here, let me."
Haldir poured a bit of the oil into Melpomaen's palms, and a few drops into his own, then reclosed the bottle and set it by. He knelt to let Melpomaen rub the thick liquid onto his hard member, pulsing with desire. Their lips joined again, wordlessly reaffirming their love. Melpomaen drew away a little and lay down again, and Haldir moved to lie behind him.
He used one well-oiled finger first, nudging his way past the tight ring of flesh at the opening, gently entering and stretching the passage inside. He pressed lightly on the sensitive node he could feel through the thin wall, and as Melpomaen gasped at the sensation, slid in a second, then a third finger. His other hand reached around to stroke Melpomaen's chest, brushing against each nipple in turn, until his lover began to press his hips backward, crying out, "Meldanya, please, take me now!"
At that he carefully withdrew his hand, and shifted to nestle the head of his organ in the cleft, pushing slowly inside. They groaned together, Haldir feeling himself engulfed as Melpomaen clamped down around him. He pulled back, then thrust in again, and again, not daring to be as forceful as he had sometimes been in the past, but knowing that Melpomaen would not want him to be too gentle. He teased Melpomaen's rigid hardness with fingers and palm, feeling the few drops of moisture that said that his lover would soon reach his climax.
"Are you ready?" Haldir said through clenched teeth. "Are you with me, Maen?"
Melpomaen shuddered next to him as Haldir's cock filled him to the core. "Yes, now, now," and as Haldir gave a final thrust, he released his own passion in a great spurt, calling out in the ecstasy of his delight.
Haldir leaned his head forward onto Melpomaen's damp shoulder, panting.
"Thank you," said Melpomaen softly.
"For not holding back, fearing to hurt me. For taking me as an equal partner. Not only in our lovemaking just now, but always. You could have assumed that I would reject your love, and so never offered it; but you gave me the choice for myself, and I wanted to tell you that I find that respect a very precious gift," Melpomaen said.
"I, I do not know what to say, Maen," said Haldir, blinking moisture from his eyes. "You are right, I might have held back, in fear. Our friendship was a joy to me and I hesitated to risk it."
"That I can understand, certainly; but I am glad you did not." Melpomaen stretched languidly, and turned over to face his friend.
"Haldir, love," he said gravely, "I want to ask you something."
"What is it?" Haldir was taken aback by the intensity of Melpomaen's tone.
"I want us to reconsider taking the northern route home. We'll have to leave here in a day or two, one way or another, for really I think I am fit to travel again. And I assume you have thought of no solution for our future that will let us both stay together and continue to be lovers, for I certainly have not. I will accept that, as I have said, if I must; but I would very much like to delay it as long as we justifiably can. To take the northern route would not be unreasonable, since it is safer. Will you agree to this, for me?" Melpomaen waited, worrying, until Haldir should answer.
Haldir paused. The arguments he had set out before against changing their path home were still valid, he thought. But it was not yet so late in the year as to make the decision impossible in practical terms. The Lord and Lady were patient and could wait for their answer a little longer, and it would bring Melpomaen great happiness – and himself as well, he admitted.
"Very well," he said at last. "Let us, then, travel north once more." He laughed a little. "And if we should be overtaken by winter, let us at least hope that we find a place to spend it in comfort!"
(1) Unless I am gravely mistaken in my recollection, Rudyard Kipling did not tell this particular story in the Just So Stories, but it is the sort he might have told; and that was certainly the inspiration for its title.
(2) Elves mature more slowly than Men. According to Tolkien, "Children of Men might reach their full height while Eldar of the same age were still in body like to mortals of no more than seven years" (Morgoth's Ring, HoMe vol. 10, p. 210). Thus Melpomaen at age twenty would be the equivalent of a six- or seven-year-old among Men. He is exaggerating slightly when he says he was hardly more than a babe.
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