29. Midwinter Night
At their assent he fetched his own and Melpomaen’s, and they detoured past Legolas’s room so that the captain could collect his as well. Though the day had been pleasant enough in the sun, the clear skies predicted a cold night. Standing outside in the snow waiting for the last light to fade would be a chill experience with nothing but a tunic and jerkin against the night.
The Great Hall was beginning to empty when they reached it, the crowd slowly filing out into the fast-fading light. Melpomaen set his parcel down against the wall near to the king’s chair, twitching a loose fold of cloth into place, then straightened to follow the other two outside.
As with the events earlier in the day, there was no discernible order to where anyone stood while waiting for the first star to appear. Old and young, Elf and Man, benn and bess intermingled. There were even a couple of stray Dwarves, caught by a storm a few days past and not unwilling to stay through the festival, though they kept very much to themselves and stayed on the fringes of the throng. Legolas led Haldir and Melpomaen around to the southern side of the clearing outside the gates, and up a gentle rise.
“The view is usually best from here,” he told them.
In the dimming light, Melpomaen took Haldir’s hand. His lover returned the pressure, then nudged Legolas’s elbow. When the captain half-turned to ask what he wanted, Haldir held out his hand. Legolas hesitated at first, then smiled and took it. Unseen, Melpomaen quirked an eyebrow.
But now the last purple and rose streaks were fading on the western horizon, and everyone present scanned the sky, looking for the first appearance of a star.
“There!” A child’s shrill voice cut through the silence, quickly hushed by its mother.
First one, then three, then dozens and hundreds of stars became visible as true darkness fell. To his great surprise, Haldir felt tears running down his cheeks, and in the dusk he could see that Melpomaen’s face was wet also. The beauty and stillness were almost unbearable, even though shared with so many others.
At last the spell was broken by the pure and piercing note of a flute, playing a melody unknown to the two Lórien Elves, who listened as Legolas and their other neighbors sang.
The woods and the river are silent,
And the waveless sea is at rest;
In their caves the winds are at truce and peace,
And in the dark night
The white moon creates lofty silence. . . (1)
The harmonies created by the singers captured the glory of the stars, the stillness of the night, the splendor of the world around. Melpomaen let go of Haldir’s hand and slipped an arm around his waist instead, wanting to be closer as he drank in the sounds. They hardly noticed the biting cold as they stood transfixed.
When at last the singing ended, and the gathered crowd began to return to the light and warmth and merry-making inside, Haldir turned to Legolas next to him. “Glorious,” he said, and repeated, “Glorious.”
Legolas smiled, almost shyly. “But surely you celebrate mettarë at your homes, too? Is it not like this at all?”
“We have nothing like this singing,” said Melpomaen honestly. “We sing, of course, but not such songs as these to the stars. More rejoicing that the sun will soon return, and the days lengthen.”
“Interesting,” Legolas mused. “You will have to talk with Dúlin about that – I am sure she would be fascinated.” He pulled his cloak closer. “Let us go inside. I’m getting chilled out here, are you not?”
They went in. Thranduil was already seated at the high table, and Melpomaen inquired if Legolas was not meant to sit there as well, as his father’s son.
“It does not matter tonight,” Legolas told them. “It is not a time for much ceremony, only fellowship and good cheer. I would rather sit with you, if I may?”
“It would be an honor,” said Haldir. “Besides, we would appreciate knowing just what is to happen for the rest of the night.”
Legolas gestured around the hall. “As you see. Now is the time for gift-giving. I must go to my father for this, but I shall return shortly.” He strode off, threading his way among the chattering knots of people towards the end of the Great Hall where Thranduil sat.
Turning to Melpomaen, Haldir said, “Now I will give you the gift that you can receive in public, shall I?” He reached into his belt-pouch, pulled out a small parcel wrapped in a bit of green silk, and handed it to his lover.
Melpomaen’s usually deft fingers fumbled as he unwound the filmy cloth to reveal a silver armlet, with stars engraved on it in an arc. He touched it reverently, tracing the fine lines, and said, “It is lovely, Dír. Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” Haldir smiled at him.
“Let me just think where I left mine. . . oh yes. Up near the other end of the room, behind the king’s seat. I will be back.” Melpomaen disappeared for several minutes, then returned carrying the large package he had brought from their room, Legolas following behind him.
Haldir unknotted the blue cord from around the cloth and let it fall away. Inside was a leather pack to replace the one he had carried from Lothlórien and had borne as a ranger for several years. The front of it was embossed with trees with intertwining branches, and Haldir was certain that Melpomaen must have been responsible for the decoration himself, for each tree was a stylized mallorn. “How wonderful. What a thoughtful, beautiful gift, Maen – thank you.” He touched Melpomaen’s shoulder, and then took his hand.
“I like the pattern,” Legolas remarked. “Did you draw it yourself?”
“Yes,” Melpomaen admitted. “I’m not much of an artist, but that is my work.” Uncomfortable, he looked at Haldir and raised an eyebrow.
Haldir nodded, and Melpomaen extracted a violet-wrapped package from his pocket. He gave it to Legolas.
“For you. . . it is just a token,” he added hurriedly.
“Hardly,” said Legolas, when he had opened it and had seen the embroidered crimson sash inside. He put it around his waist, tying it to let the silver fringe hang down. “Thank you both, very much – it’s lovely. And here, for you.”
Legolas had had a pair of gloves made for each of them, of butter-soft leather, supple as silk. Haldir pulled his on immediately and found that they fit as well as if his measurements had been taken. He touched Melpomaen’s face. “Feel how soft.”
“Oh,” said Melpomaen, and a flicker crossed his face. “Very soft indeed.”
Haldir suspected his lover of having ideas best not mentioned in public, and let one eyelid droop briefly in a wink before together they thanked Legolas, who waved it aside.
“Now, shall we get something to eat, before the dancing begins?” he suggested.
Balancing plates piled high with delicious-looking morsels, they found three places together at one of the tables and began to eat. The venison was so tender, marinated in wine and herbs, that Melpomaen went back for more, though he knew he might regret a too-full stomach once the dancing began.
Haldir nibbled on a slice of dried pear as the hubbub of the room died down and the musicians began to play. The first tune was in a minor key, wailing like the wind of a winter storm, evidently meant to draw attention rather than encourage dancing. But the next had a hearty sound to it, and Haldir joined the forming circle, leaving his two companions behind at the table.
The melody drew him in. He did not worry about being unfamiliar with the exact steps of the dances – the music would guide him. He was vaguely aware of Melpomaen and Legolas joining him, but for now, to dance was all that mattered, not who he danced with. The hours sped by like minutes. He saw Dúlin on the edge of the room playing first one of her strange instruments, then another, and thought that he would like to gift Melpomaen with one such, someday.
In the brief intervals between songs, he drank long draughts of cider – better than wine, for thirst-quenching – and then returned to the dancing. Finally he realized that Melpomaen was trying to speak to him.
“What?” He shook his head.
“Are you not ready to stop for tonight? There will be other chances to dance, I’m sure,” said Melpomaen. “It’s rather late.”
Haldir looked around. Melpomaen was right. The great log in the central hearth was nearly consumed, and the crowd had thinned out. Legolas was still there, looking weary. So did Melpomaen, Haldir realized, and apologized. “I am sorry, mel- Maen,” he caught himself. “If you wish to leave, I am ready to go.”
Melpomaen took Haldir’s hand and extended his other arm to Legolas. “Shall we?”
The Lórien Elves’ room was closer, and when they reached it all three went in. Legolas had thoughtfully picked up their several gifts before they left the Great Hall. He set them on the table and hesitated, not sure whether to stay or return to his own rooms. He took a step or two towards the door, to be stopped by Melpomaen’s hand on his shoulder.
“Not going already?”
Legolas shrugged. “It is late.”
“But it is mettarë,” said Haldir, stepping in front of him. “No one should be alone on a festival night.”
“Do stay,” said Melpomaen, his eyes dark and wide in the candlelight.
Glancing from one to the other, Legolas thought that he probably should not accept. Would it not raise all his unfulfillable longings again, leave him feeling more alone than ever?
“You are our friend,” Haldir said, when Legolas did not answer. He moved to one side. “Neither of us would press you to do something you do not wish to do. We invite you to stay and be with us, but if you prefer to leave, you should. We would not be offended.”
Legolas decided that he meant it. “No, I will stay. I want to stay,” he added firmly, to dispel any suggestion that he was acceding despite his own judgment.
“Good.” Melpomaen’s face broke into a smile. “Come on, then.”
“Up here,” and Melpomaen suited actions to words and climbed onto the bed, patting the space beside him as he leaned against the wall. “This is much more comfortable than the chairs. Haldir, would you bring the cups and that flagon of wine?”
Haldir sat in the middle, pouring wine and handing it to each of them. Melpomaen took the flagon and set it on the table, within reach.
“To friendship,” Legolas said. “May we all find it so easily.” He reached to take Haldir’s hand, and Melpomaen joined his to the other two. They lifted their cups to their lips, and drank.
Legolas was surprised by the fine and subtle flavor. Somehow Melpomaen had managed to get hold of a flagon of the strong red wine of Dorwinion, usually only served at the king’s own table. Suitable for such an occasion as mettarë, but perhaps a little – overstimulating. He glanced over at Haldir, who had already seemed less constrained than usual by the dancing in the Great Hall. The other’s eyes were half-lidded, his lips parted in a smile as he raised his cup for another draught of wine.
“Would you. . .” Legolas cleared his throat and started again. “Would you like me to rub your back, Haldir? I should think you were sore, after our contest this afternoon.”
“What about me?” Melpomaen said with mock indignance. “I was competing at archery, you know – do I not deserve a little of your attention, too?”
“Ah,” Legolas floundered, “if you wish, I suppose so, Melpomaen.”
Haldir looked from one to the other, and Legolas felt a cold certainty that he was entirely sober, intoxicated neither by the dancing nor the wine. “Let us each choose one other, then, to give such an effort to.”
“I choose Legolas,” said Melpomaen, quickly enough that Haldir wondered at it.
“I choose you, Haldir,” said Legolas.
“Then I will rub your back, Maen,” Haldir said, “if you will take off your tunic and pass me the flask of oil?”
Melpomaen stretched an arm out lazily and picked up the flask from the side table, handing it over, before he sat up and began to remove his garments. When he was stripped to the waist, he lay down again, head turned so that he could look at Legolas to his right, and Haldir knelt over him and began to knead the muscles of his shoulders and neck. Legolas, feeling too warm, had also taken off his tunic, and reclined on his elbow facing the other two. He spoke almost at random, wanting to keep a connection with them.
“I know you must have some reason for keeping secret your home. I wish you felt you could trust me enough to say where it is, but if you cannot, you cannot. It has been an – interesting – few months with you here, to say the least. I would be very glad if you would stay longer, or else return when you can.”
Haldir’s face tightened, but he made no response in words. Under his hands, Melpomaen said, “So would I, Legolas, but we have not decided yet; we have not even discussed the matter in any serious way.” He reached out his right hand to Legolas, and smiled. “But I think you can guess my inclination.”
Legolas nodded, although his glance at Haldir showed him that the latter did not agree. The king’s son foresaw a certain amount of friction between the two lovers on the matter – but it was not his business to interfere. King Thranduil had wished the offer to be made, and Legolas thought it was a good idea for several reasons. Whether they wished to accept it was wholly their choice, and he would say nothing further for now. He took Melpomaen’s hand, entwining the slender fingers in his own, and fell silent, watching Haldir work.
After some little time, Haldir stopped, and bending down, whispered in Melpomaen’s ear. “All right, meldanya – enough?”
“Mm. All right.” Melpomaen squirmed and stretched. “I think Legolas should give you yours next.”
“Do you mind?” Haldir asked Legolas.
“Certainly not,” Legolas replied, and waited as Haldir took off his unnecessary clothing. He emulated the position that the other had taken, and began by running his thumbs along Haldir’s spine, finding little knots in the muscles there and smoothing them away. Melpomaen watched, still relaxed and lying prone on the other side of the bed. From there he could see Haldir’s face, tranquil, eyes closed, a strand of hair loose and tangled in his lashes. He could see the play of light on Legolas’s torso as he moved, and admired the way that his muscles shifted under the pale skin.
Legolas felt Melpomaen watching him, and looked over, raising an eyebrow. Melpomaen gazed steadily back, and Legolas dropped his eyes, pouring a few more drops of oil onto Haldir’s back and rubbing them in. The oil was fragrant with cloves, and it mingled with the scents of Haldir’s and Melpomaen’s flesh until Legolas felt dizzied. His hands moved more and more slowly, to the point of caressing rather than kneading, until with a sigh he ceased altogether. Haldir seemed almost asleep as Legolas moved off him to the center of the bed.
Melpomaen smiled at Legolas and gestured to him to stretch out next to Haldir. He knelt between the two and ran his hands along each Elf’s back, from the nape of their necks down to where the swell of buttocks began, and up again. Then he coated his hands with the oil, shifted position, and concentrated on Legolas, using his fingertips to dig into the muscles of Legolas’s shoulders and upper arms until they were loosened, before moving to do the same on his lower back, chasing the ripples of tension away. He could feel Legolas’s steady breathing between his legs.
When Melpomaen touched him, Haldir had roused from his relaxed state, his eyes opening to gaze into those of Legolas facing him. He watched as Melpomaen began to knead Legolas’s back, and saw the other Elf’s eyes widen as Melpomaen touched tender nerves, then droop as the twinges were smoothed away. On an impulse he turned and rested his left hand on Melpomaen’s ankle, while placing the tip of his right forefinger against Legolas’s lips. A flash of – astonishment? distress? revelation? Haldir was not sure which – crossed Legolas’s face, but his breathing did not falter, even when he moved his arm so that his fingers brushed Haldir’s chest.
The silence was calm as Melpomaen finished and straightened up, pressing the heels of his hands against his own back. He could hear faint sounds from the corridor, doubtless a few merry-makers trailing back to their rooms. Looking at Legolas’s and Haldir’s profiles against the clean white linen, he was struck by how detached Legolas seemed to be, even in the act of giving and receiving a touch. Perhaps that was inevitable, for one without a bond-partner of his own, but Melpomaen suddenly ached for him in a way that was unfamiliar. If before he had wanted to have Legolas present for a number of reasons he did not wish to put into words, but especially to underline the distance between Haldir and the captain, now he felt an impulse to lessen that distance somehow. Yet how could that be, without causing more trouble than he might ease?
Nudging Haldir’s leg so that his lover caught his eye, Melpomaen openly tugged at the laces that held his own leggings and moved to lie on the other side of Legolas. Haldir looked startled at first, then tacitly acquiescing, began to use his free hand to loosen his own remaining garments, touching Legolas’s chin to attract his attention. Legolas, startled from a near-trance, watched Haldir’s movements without comprehending them at first. Understanding came in a flash and he twisted to see Melpomaen’s reaction. When he realized that the dark-haired Elf had originated the notion, he hesitated no longer in fumbling with the ties at his waist. Legolas had surmised that one or both of the others would make such a suggestion when he had chosen to stay, and he had to admit that his desire to be present with them once again outweighed the disquiet the notion brought him.
His conversation with Haldir some days before had assured him that in his heart he had no real wish to interfere with the bond between Haldir and Melpomaen, and he had no intention of jeopardizing that through an errant touch. Thus it surprised Legolas when Melpomaen touched him on the cheek as he lay half-turned onto his left side, facing Haldir. He looked quickly over his shoulder.
“Legolas,” said Melpomaen, the flickering light of the candle making it difficult for Legolas to read his face. “In honor of the returning sun. . .” and he kissed Legolas, lightly, on the lips. Legolas froze, his body refusing to react. He almost feared to turn his head back to see how Haldir would respond, but he could not remain in this twisted position forever. When he did look again at Haldir, he was relieved by the smile on Haldir’s face.
“To honor the sun,” Haldir echoed, and kissed Legolas likewise. The kisses themselves did not bring any increase in Legolas’s desire, he was glad to find, though the fact that the two felt close enough in friendship to invite him to stay and share this night warmed him through. He turned onto his back so that he might look easily at either of his two friends, and they see him as well.
None of them felt any great urgency as they touched themselves; this was a time to be savored, one that they all recognized might never again come, and so not to be hurried nor given less than full attention and enjoyment. Haldir and Melpomaen had each pulled a pillow under his shoulder, so that they could see each other across Legolas’s body. It seemed to Melpomaen that he could almost hear his lover’s thoughts of pleasure and delight, Haldir’s eyes brilliant in the dim light as his hand stroked his cock.
Legolas watched as Melpomaen used one hand to pinch his nipples to hard peaks, the other rubbing the loose skin at the tip of his organ, pulling it back to reveal the reddened head. The barest hint of moisture gleamed there. Legolas wondered if it would taste as bitter as his own seed – something he realized that he would never know. Melpomaen’s breathing was quickening, the blood pulsing through his body and collecting in his groin, seeing Legolas and Haldir watching his movements. He slowed and deliberately turned his attention to them, encouraging their own play in turn.
Haldir wrapped the palm of his left hand around his member, stroking not-quite-roughly up and down the length of it, remembering how it had felt to be inside of Melpomaen that morning. He caught Legolas’s eyes on him, and regretted that his friend might never know that sense of union with another, the physical and mental joining together. He still believed what he had told Legolas, that there must be a reason why the king’s son had never found a partner, but who could know how long that might endure? Wriggling a little closer to Legolas, he used his free hand to take Legolas by the chin and tilt his head for another soft passionless kiss. On the edge of his vision he could see Melpomaen nodding, approving, and then bending to kiss Legolas on the cheek.
Relinquishing his hold, Haldir moved back again. Legolas held his gaze, a tear trickling from one eye, but to Haldir’s pleasure he was smiling.
“Thank you.” His lips formed the words, though no sound emerged. It was strange to Legolas that what only a few weeks ago would have sent delirious thrills through him now brought only the quiet happiness of comfort. For an instant he regretted the change, then common sense took over. Such unreturnable emotions would have been nothing but a burden to him, over time. Better that things should be as they were. He could think of no more appropriate way to show his appreciation than to take delight in the moment, so he began to work his hand faster, letting his legs fall akimbo, his head roll to one side. It was no longer Haldir’s face and body that filled his mind as he gasped, hips thrusting as he spent in a sticky arc onto his chest. That might have embarrassed him in other circumstances, but here and now he felt nothing but content, to be with Melpomaen and Haldir when he reached the peak of pleasure.
As Legolas cried out, Haldir looked over at Melpomaen and bowed his head in silent acknowledgment, his own hand again moving, stroking proud flesh. With a flash of longing he thought again of touching his lover, but this was not the time, not with Legolas present. Instead he reached for the oil, coating one finger and reseating the stopper. He slid his finger inside himself, where he wished Melpomaen could be, finding the spot that spurred his desire and caressing it. He rubbed against the linen, rough against sensitive skin, until sensation overcame him and he could hold back no longer. His body stiffened as his seed spilled into the sheets.
Melpomaen had watched avidly as his two companions came to orgasm. He scarcely needed to touch himself to remain hard, doing so. When they had each finished, he allowed himself to make a little noise, a groan, and they turned their heads to look at him. Melpomaen quivered in excitement. He smiled to know that his beloved Haldir was there, near him, with him in spirit if not quite in body; and that Legolas too was present. The lines of their bodies sang to him as he touched himself, passing his thumb over the tip of his member and then along the vein, making a show of it. He wanted, oh, how he wanted this to last for longer, but it was too much. He could feel the pounding of his heart echoed along the length of his cock, quivering, pulsing, and his seed pulsed out with it.
They lay still for a time, spent, Legolas’s bent knee just grazing Melpomaen’s thigh, Haldir’s hand against Legolas’s shoulder.
“A happy mettarë to you,” Melpomaen murmured at last. Legolas and Haldir laughed, their voices blending, and Melpomaen laughed with them.
“I think now it is more like yestarë,” Legolas pointed out. “It must be well after the middle of the night.” He sighed. “I should go. I have duties in the morning that cannot be abrogated.”
“Must you?” asked Haldir, but his tone was more resigned than questioning. He knew the truth of what Legolas said, and rose to fetch a damp cloth from the bathing room, wiping himself off and then passing it to Legolas.
“I must. But this was a far happier mettarë than I had any cause to expect, thanks to you both.” Legolas pulled his clothes on and stood at the end of the bed, looking at them in silence for some moments before holding out his hands to encourage them to sit up closer. He kissed first Haldir and then Melpomaen, and then left them alone together for the rest of the night.
(1) This is an extract from “The Woods And the Rivers Are Silent,” by Torquato Tasso, a 16th-century Italian poet; this translation is by the Mediaeval Baebes, from the liner notes of their album The Rose.
There is a more AU alternative version to this chapter on my personal site here; the events in the alternative version will not be taken up into the larger story as philosophically I cannot countenance them; this was written primarily because I wanted to see if I could make that situation work from a story-telling perspective.