35. The Clearing
Melpomaen rubbed at his eyes and heaved himself upward, pulling the loose end of the blanket across his lap. He reached for the cup that Haldir held out and sipped cautiously at the steaming liquid. “Thank you.”
“You are most welcome. We can refill our water bags before we leave this place.” Haldir handed Melpomaen a cold rabbit leg left from their supper. The rest he had wrapped and tucked away for that evening’s meal.
Gnawing, Melpomaen mumbled through his mouthful, “Are we in a rush?” He swallowed and took another drink of tea.
“Not especially, but it will be an hour just to get back to the path, and it’s a fair morning – or as fair as they ever are, under these trees,” Haldir added. “Did you sleep well?”
“Well enough. I think I was lying on some tree roots, but that’s difficult to avoid in the woods. Walking will work out the kinks,” said Melpomaen. He finished his breakfast and Haldir took the bone from him to bury with the rest of the refuse from their night’s camp, while Melpomaen stowed his blanket in his pack and put out the fire.
It was about the middle of the morning when the path took them to the stream of which they had been warned. The trees stood back a little way from either bank, and it was a pleasure to be able to see the sky again. A low wooden bridge spanned the water. It had clearly been built no more than a handful of years before, and seemed sturdy enough to take a cart, even a Dwarf-cart laden with metal goods. It certainly posed no difficulty for a pair of Elves on foot, but they were glad that Legolas had warned them not to drink from – or even touch – the enchanted waters of the stream, for otherwise they would have replenished their water-bags and perhaps even bathed in it.
Stepping back into the heavy shadows under the branches on the other side and continuing along the path was a wrench, even after as brief a glimpse of the sun as they had had. To dispel the gloom, they spoke as they walked, picking up the thread of their conversation from the night before. They kept their voices low, so as not to draw undue attention from any creatures in the wood, especially the spiders.
“Did you ever reach a satisfactory conclusion as to what Legolas might have meant by his words to you, Maen?” asked Haldir.
Melpomaen bit his lip. “Perhaps,” he admitted.
Turning his head, Haldir arched an eyebrow in query and waited for his partner to continue.
“I do not think his forgiveness was for something as simple as my having met you first. I think perhaps he suspected that my motives for inviting him to be with us were not entirely unselfish.” Melpomaen hesitated, and then added in even quieter tones, “And he would have been right.”
“Yes, I fear he would. At least at first. I. . . I wanted it to be clear to him that you were mine, and I yours, and that he could not have you. To warn him off and perhaps even to make him jealous.” He shook his head. “It was an unworthy thing to have done. Dishonorable. Even though it seems to have come out all right in the end.”
“But Maen, what was your intention in so doing?” Haldir asked him. “You know that, bonded to you, I could never leave you or wish to, whatever any third person might want or say or do.”
“I know,” said Melpomaen, his tones mingling shame and exasperation. “I know, I knew it then, but I seemed unable to stop myself. Attention from someone like Legolas – handsome, clever, a king’s son – how could that not be a temptation, or so I thought. I suppose I did not trust the bond between us to be yet strong enough to hold in the face of such a lure.”
“Do you now?” Haldir’s voice was level and serious.
Melpomaen shrugged. “You have given me no reason to doubt it.”
“You are evading an answer, Maen.”
“I don’t know, Dír,” sighed Melpomaen. “I don’t understand the nature of our bond. I’ve never quite grasped how a bond is created between a benn and a bess, even, still less between two binn. It was something that I always assumed would become clear when I wedded. So far as I can tell, our bond is true and complete, but I would like to be certain of it. If I am unsure, who am a part of it, someone else might easily deny its reality.”
Haldir nodded. “I feel much the same as you, save that perhaps my knowledge is a little greater.” He paused thoughtfully. “Legolas believes and told me that a bond between two binn is completed when one of them enters the body of the other, just as the bond between a benn and a bess is made permanent when they are first fully joined together in love.”
“That is what he believes,” said Melpomaen, “but is it the truth? Can we be certain his understanding is correct? Did you feel any change in yourself when I first made love to you so? I do not think that I did.”
“I don’t recall,” said Haldir, smiling, “I was a little – preoccupied – at the time. But I think not.”
“I always thought that I would feel something when I bonded with my mate. A chill, or see a flash of light. Surely it could not pass unnoticed. Perhaps, then, we are not truly bonded?”
“No. That cannot be. Think about the last time we were with Legolas – his touch brought me no excitement, but yours did. Was it not the same for you? And does that not mean that we must be bonded?” Haldir reasoned.
Melpomaen frowned. “I had the same experience,” he said, “but could it not betoken simply a lack of attraction to Legolas himself, rather than necessarily being an inability to be attracted by anyone except each other?”
“Well, then,” Haldir said, “how would you test it? For I think that someone unattached would find Legolas alluring. He is, as you said, both handsome and thoughtful.”
“I don’t know,” replied Melpomaen. “Perhaps there is no certain way to tell.”
They lapsed into silence for a time, continuing to walk westward along the path. Haldir was thankful for the heavy shade of the trees at this hour of the day; else they would be staring straight into the lowering sun. Now that they were quiet they could hear the sounds of the forest around them: birds chirping to one another from their nests; some creature rustling as it moved through the bushes – a rabbit perhaps, or maybe a fox; the wind stirring eddies of dead leaves. The trees had all begun to leaf out, though they would become fuller before high summer. He could see tangles of bramble here and there, wherever a few stray beams of sunlight might pierce through the leaf canopy, and absently wondered if they would reach home before the berries were ripe. Unless something unexpected happened, they should. Haldir looked forward to seeing his brothers again, though he knew it would be a struggle to conceal from them the changed nature of the partnership between Melpomaen and himself.
Melpomaen strode, deep in thought. He kicked at an acorn lying in his way, sending it skittering along the path in front of him until it bounced off a rut and was lost in the tufts of grass on the verge. “Let us stop now,” he said abruptly.
Haldir looked at him in surprise and responded, “There are two or three hours of light yet.”
“I know, but what is our time for, anyway? A few days more or less will make no difference. Since we were unable to reach home last autumn, due to my foolish accident, it matters little, as you have said before.”
“Let us look for somewhere to make camp, then,” said Haldir. “We might as well choose a good place, since we are in no hurry.”
They walked on for another mile before finding a suitable location. It would be several days before they needed to find water again, so all they hoped for was a reasonable break in the trees. At last, however, they came to a little glade, right beside the road, which clearly had been often used by other travelers. There was a stone fire pit, with several fallen logs placed nearby as seats, and even some firewood piled under one of the trees. Nevertheless Haldir went to gather more while Melpomaen laid out their camp. They had plenty of time and light to collect fuel, whereas travelers some other day might be grateful to find wood ready to hand.
The clearing was near the crest of a little hill, and the trees here were sparser, a stand of beeches and a few alders instead of the ivy-draped oaks they had seen for the past day or two. The ground here was drier as well, not damp as it had been on earlier evenings. Melpomaen was glad for the rough stone hearth, which meant that he need not take such great care in clearing a space free of any grass or leaves for their fire. He laid out their blankets and then put some pieces of dried onions and tubers into the pot, to simmer with the rest of yesterday’s rabbit. There were sufficient twigs and small branches scattered about to serve as kindling, so he went ahead with building and lighting the fire.
Haldir reappeared with an armful of wood and stacked it neatly near the hearth. He looked around the clearing, measuring it by eye, and asked Melpomaen, “Would you like to practice a little sword-play?”
“Yes.” Melpomaen jumped up and took a stance opposite his partner. They began running through some of the standard practice sequences.
“Clearly I did not practice enough this winter,” laughed Melpomaen ruefully half an hour later, when Haldir had for the third time beaten through his defenses. “Look, you haven’t even broken a sweat.” He plucked at his own tunic, patched with damp. “I should have taken this off before we began.”
Sheathing his blade, Haldir stepped closer and smiled at him. “You could take it off now, Maen. It still lacks an hour and more until sunset; we need not concern ourselves with keeping a sharp watch at the moment. We have been over-careless in the past, but this camp is too well-used for most creatures to come near, certainly not in daylight.”
“Mm. True enough,” said Melpomaen. He set his weapon down and pulled the garment off, tossing his head to free his hair from where it clung damply to his neck. Looking over at Haldir, he saw that the other Elf had already stripped to the waist. Melpomaen enjoyed the sight of his lover’s bared chest, and almost regretted it when Haldir moved close enough to embrace, for then he could no longer see the strong body to admire it. Then again, to touch him was a great pleasure too. Haldir had not quite sweated through his clothing, but his skin was moist with exertion. Melpomaen ran a finger along Haldir’s breastbone, then licked the salty traces directly, lapping at Haldir’s rosy nipples.
Haldir put his arms around Melpomaen’s shoulders. “Yes, Maen, yes,” he murmured into the air, as the suckling brought an answering pull from his groin. The fabric of his leggings felt rough and tight against his swelling member, and when Melpomaen raised his head, Haldir pulled his lover close, pressing against his thigh.
The wetted skin of Haldir’s chest met Melpomaen’s as they embraced, their mouths clinging together. Haldir guided them over to the blankets, but it was Melpomaen who first moved to take off the clothing that still hindered them. He skinned out of his own garments, leaving Haldir standing. Then he slowly removed Haldir’s remaining clothes piece by piece, running his hands along the newly-bared skin, teasing Haldir with his touch. He exhaled a warm breath on Haldir’s erect member and caressed his tight pouch. Haldir gasped and held onto Melpomaen’s head to steady himself.
Melpomaen tasted the tip of Haldir’s organ, dipping into the slit with his tongue, enjoying the salt and bitter flavors, so different from the sweetness of his lover’s mouth. His lips slid across the head and partway down the shaft, again causing Haldir to catch his breath. Melpomaen held onto Haldir’s hip with one hand as he sucked; with his free hand he grasped his own organ, hot and hard.
“Oh, meldanya,” Haldir panted. “Stop – please.”
Melpomaen paused and looked up, still with his lips pressed around Haldir.
“I want to make this last longer,” explained the golden-haired Elf. “And you have me very close, Maen.”
Releasing Haldir, Melpomaen sat back on his heels as his partner sank down to the blanket next to him. Haldir brushed a stray wisp of hair away from Melpomaen’s cheek and took his face between his own palms, kissing him deeply before pushing him to lie down and bending to reciprocate what Melpomaen had just been doing to him.
A groan escaped Melpomaen’s throat as his lover’s eager tongue lapped at his pouch and then ran up along his length to circle and draw him into moist warmth. His hips jerked, just a little, when Haldir ran a finger around the base of his shaft and then down, seeking entry. “The oil, Dír – do you have it?” asked Melpomaen urgently.
The mouth that embraced him withdrew, and Haldir said, “Just a moment.”
It was more than a moment, but soon Haldir had found the flask tucked into the bottom of his pouch and returned to the blankets. He poured a little into his palm, dabbling his fingers in the slippery fluid before returning his attention to Melpomaen’s waiting passage. One fingertip, then another, sought and found entry. The oil that remained on his other hand Haldir used to coat his own member first, then smeared the last drops onto Melpomaen’s.
“Are you ready?” Haldir asked. “Do you want me?”
“Yes, meldanya – I want you within me.” Melpomaen reversed his position, kneeling with his backside in the air and his arms folded under his cheek, cushioning his head.
Haldir’s throat tightened, looking at him, so open and willing. He entered Melpomaen with one long slow thrust, until he was fully engulfed in the tight slick channel. His sigh of pleasure matched Melpomaen’s. “All right?” He reached around and gripped Melpomaen’s cock. Melpomaen said nothing, but the wriggling of his hips told Haldir that his motions were indeed acceptable to his lover. He leaned forward and licked, then bit, Melpomaen’s shoulder blade, moving sideways along it until he reached the join between arm and back. Inhaling the tang of Melpomaen’s sweat, he pumped his hand faster while keeping his thrusts small.
A hand touching him, a shaft filling him, teeth nipping him – Melpomaen would have bitten his own arm to keep back his cries, had they still been in Thranduil’s caverns. As it was, he startled off two squirrels and a sparrow with the noises he made. Haldir continued to thrust into him, seeking his own release and announcing it with a groan even louder than Melpomaen’s. He withdrew, gritting his teeth at the harsh touch of the blanket on tender skin.
Melpomaen rolled over and gave Haldir a lazy grin. “I should lose in sword-practice more often, if this is what will happen as a result.”
“Heh,” Haldir snorted. “What will happen is that you’ll need the practice and not have it.” But he grinned back and pulled Melpomaen close. “Too bad we don’t have that bathing-room handy any more. Or even a stream.”
“Are you saying that I stink?” Melpomaen poked him in the ribs. “That’s rather the sun calling the moon bright, that is. But we can spare enough water to sponge off, I’m sure.”
“Pass me the water bag and a cloth, and I’ll do it.”
Refreshed by the wipe-down, Melpomaen put on his leggings and shoes again, but left off the tunic; it was still damp from his sweat, and an airing would help. He rebuilt the fire and checked the stew-pot, simmering their meal into succulence. Haldir watched, propped on one elbow.
“Dír.” Melpomaen looked over at him. “Do you hear that?”
Haldir listened. “I think we are about to be joined.” Quickly he pulled on his clothing.
They watched as four carts rolled into view, each drawn by a pair of ponies and with a Dwarf riding high on a pile of crates.
The Dwarf on the leading cart began to turn his ponies into the clearing, saw the Elves, and whistled shrilly. His companions quickly looked up and reined to a halt, waiting.
Haldir saw that they had their hands on their axe-handles, and bowed to the leader. “Greetings, master Dwarf,” he said respectfully, using the Common Tongue. “My traveling companion and I were about to eat our supper. Would you and your companions care to join your camp with ours?”
Behind the great russet beard, the Dwarf’s face was hard to read. He said, “Greetings, master Elf. We had not expected to find any other travelers here tonight. But we will share this camp with you.” He nodded to the other Dwarves. Haldir and Melpomaen were relieved to see that they left their axes in the carts as they brought them one by one into the clearing, turning each around and unharnessing the ponies, which they picketed on the grass far from the fire.
It seemed they carried provisions for themselves and their beasts in one vehicle, while the others bore the goods for trade. They had come from Erebor and were planning to travel all the way to the Blue Mountains. Their leader introduced himself as Frerin, and the other three were Orin, Borin, and Khîm. The two Elves gave their names in return, and removed their blankets to one side of the fire-pit so that the Dwarves could share the warmth of it.
Frerin was garrulous for a Dwarf and conversed at some length with the Elves as his companions took care of the ponies and set up their camp. He recognized that Haldir and Melpomaen were not of the woodland folk, and asked why they were traveling through Mirkwood at such a season.
“For truly, it is rare that we encounter any others on this road,” he said. “Few are willing to use it save those who dwell in these woods, for fear of the evil things that yet haunt it, despite the cleansing of the southern part of the forest some years ago.”
“We would not have taken this path, but mischance befell my friend last autumn as we were traveling along the eastern borders of the woods. So we wintered in the halls of the woodland king. Then it seemed to us that it would be best to go west first, and then turn south, to return to our own lands,” Haldir explained.
“I see,” said Frerin thoughtfully. “My people have had few dealings with the Elves from the southlands. We trade on occasion with Thranduil’s folk, though I do not think they bear us any greater love than we them. But come. It is time for our meal, and as the late-comers we will provide the meat and drink. For I think,” he added, “that on foot you cannot carry such supplies as you might prefer.”
Borin had tapped a cask and offered the thick red wine to the Elves, who accepted a cup apiece. Khîm served up thick slices from a ham, and cakes made from meal stirred up with water and baked on stones. Melpomaen suggested that the Dwarves share the soup he had already prepared, and they complimented his hand with the seasoning.
“It is nothing,” he said, embarrassed, “merely a few herbs.”
After supper, the Dwarves seemed disposed to turn in for the night. “We generally take three watches,” said Frerin, “and one man sleeps the night through.”
Haldir looked at Melpomaen, who nodded. “We will watch for you all,” said the older Elf firmly. “No, I insist. You have shared bread and wine and meat with us; we must repay you in some manner.”
“Very well,” said Frerin after a pause. He spoke a few soft words in the Dwarvish tongue to the other three. It was unintelligible to the Elves, but Orin and Borin glanced at Melpomaen and Haldir, and then nodded at Frerin..
After the Dwarves had rolled up in their blankets, Haldir and Melpomaen spoke together in whispers.
“Frerin may suggest that we travel with them. I do not seriously expect him to, but it is possible – he may think that two additional fighters would be useful in a tight spot. What do you think we should do, if so?” asked Haldir.
Melpomaen considered it. “I wouldn’t mind, just to the edge of Mirkwood. After that our paths will diverge in any case.”
“We won’t have any chance for lovemaking,” Haldir pointed out.
“No, but it would be safer. And if we all travel together the watches will be easy, every other night off for each person,” said Melpomaen.
“All right; if he asks, we will accept, and if not, no harm done. Did you want to watch first tonight?”
“It doesn’t matter to me,” said Melpomaen. “I’ll go first, if you want.”
Haldir nodded. “I’ll just have a cup of tea, then I will join our friends in making their beautiful music.”
The two Elves grinned at each other, for the racket of snoring Dwarves was unsurpassed by anything either had hitherto encountered. Melpomaen squeezed Haldir’s hand. “I’ll wake you at the usual time.”
Haldir drank his tea – chamomile, to encourage drowsiness, though after the unaccustomed wine he scarcely needed that help – and curled up. He watched Melpomaen moving around the borders of the clearing for a little while, and then his lids drifted closed, and he slept.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.