42. The Travelers Return
"Home for me is where you are, meldanya, and you know my feelings," said Melpomaen quietly. "Would you mind very much if we spent one last night on the road, rather than trying to reach Lórien today?"
"No, we can do that," agreed Haldir. "But we should probably travel somewhat further today, don't you think?"
"As long as we camp outside the range of the patrols, yes. I know we have plenty of food although that last loaf of bread we bought at in that little village of Men is doubtless stale."
"If we build a fire, we can toast it, and that will help," said Haldir. "Shall we walk till mid-afternoon? I think that would bring us to within three or four leagues of the border, leaving us hardly more than a morning's walk tomorrow."
Melpomaen assented to the suggestion, walking as usual a few paces to Haldir's left and a step or two behind. He preferred to keep an eye to their rear, and let Haldir look ahead; moreover this position enabled him to watch his lover as they went, something about which he would have to be more circumspect in the near future. But for now, he enjoyed seeing the way that Haldir moved so lightly over the ground, surefooted and smooth, the loose strands of his hair lifted as the breeze passed.
When they stopped to set up their last camp, Haldir said, "I can hardly believe that we have been gone for a year. Lórindol thought it would take perhaps three months to make the journey to Dale and back again; he and lord Celeborn are, I suppose, worried that we have not yet returned."
"Their worry will be relieved soon," said Melpomaen. "It is my fault that we were delayed, and I will tell the captain that when we see him. Had I not been careless, I would not have injured my ankle, and we would not have wintered in Mirkwood but come home directly."
"Such accidents happen. I am sure that no one will blame you for it," Haldir assured him, "and while our mission was important, I do not think it was so urgent that a few months' delay will have serious consequences for the proposed alliance. As King Bard said when we were in Dale, the distance is great enough that our two lands will probably only call on each other in dire need, and for now there is no war in prospect, though none knows what the future holds. You were not yet among the guard eight years ago when the White Council forced the Necromancer out of Dol Guldur; we hoped that would reduce the evil coming from the southern part of Mirkwood, but as you and I have seen that is not entirely the case. I fear that wicked creatures will soon return and reoccupy it, and then we may indeed see trouble again near our borders." He sighed.
"I heard of the attack on Dol Guldur, of course, but I did not know any of our folk were involved," Melpomaen said.
"Only a few," said Haldir, "more to ensure that the Orcs that dwelt there did not escape to wreak destruction on the settlements of Men nearby, than for anything else. It was the Council who dealt with the Necromancer. I did not participate myself, but I heard about it from friends who did. Sometime I'll get Dornir to tell you about it."
Melpomaen had been clearing a space for their fire, and now he said, "That would be interesting to hear; something to distract from the boredom of a thousandth meal of lembas. I am going to miss eating real food, for more than one reason."
"Because you like cooking so well?" Haldir teased.
"You know I enjoy it, and you know that is not why," said Melpomaen. His throat closed at the thought of eating lembas again. It was not the taste of it – it tasted of grain and cream and something he could never identify, and even after weeks of nothing else it still was delicious – it was the idea that his body, his very self, would again be disconnected from his emotions. He would still feel love for his partner, but they would not be able to celebrate that love; they would have no desire for even a kiss, and should they do so regardless it would provoke no further reaction. Melpomaen reminded himself that it was for the best, since there would be no place or time where they could make love, in any case, but he found it difficult to accept the inevitable, even after all these months of trying to reconcile himself to it. He sighed and reached for his tinder box to light the fire, asking Haldir to pass him his pack with the cooking pot in it.
Melpomaen concocted a soup from their remaining supplies, supplemented with a few local greens, and put it on the edge of the fire to simmer. He would toast the bread when they were ready to eat, but that would still be some little time. Haldir had spread out their blankets and arranged the camp meanwhile.
"Would you play your pipes for me, Maen?" Haldir asked when his lover had finished fussing over the food. "I would enjoy hearing some of your music tonight."
"If you want," said Melpomaen, although he did not especially feel like it. He sat cross-legged with his pipes to his lips, his fingers dancing agilely across the holes as he played a cheerful tune, a song from his earliest years.
Haldir listened intently, tapping his hand against his knee. When Melpomaen began a new song, again one familiar from childhood, he rose and danced the simple steps that went with it, smiling with just a trace of embarrassment at Melpomaen as he jumped and clapped and spun.
"Go on," said Melpomaen, lowering the pipes when the tune ended, and lifted them to begin another melody. This was usually danced as a circle dance, but Haldir adapted as best he could, whirling around the firepit as Melpomaen played and watched him.
They went on for several more songs, until Haldir's face was shining with sweat from his exertions – for Melpomaen had chosen sprightly tunes each time – and he said, "Enough for now."
"One more, Dír?" Melpomaen requested.
"All right, one more," Haldir acquiesced. His eyes widened in surprise at the new melody that rippled from Melpomaen's pipes, though for this was no children's tune. Instead it was one that tradition attributed to Daeron the Minstrel himself, a sensuous love ballad, and one without a publicly-performed dance. Haldir paused for a moment, letting the music sink in, and remembering what he had once seen his cousin Andúniel dance to another such song. He began to improvise steps that seemed to fit, ending with an almost swaggering, challenging strut that took him back to where Melpomaen sat.
"Well?" said Haldir.
Melpomaen laid aside his instrument and reached for Haldir's hands, drawing him down to the blanket and kissing him fiercely, face and neck, tasting the salt on his damp skin. "That was. . . marvelous, more than I hoped for," he said at last. "I did not know you could dance so."
Haldir shrugged. "Neither did I."
They looked at each other and laughed in sudden sheer delight, embracing.
"How much longer before supper is ready?" Haldir asked.
"Well, we could eat it now, but it will be better if it simmers a while longer," Melpomaen said.
"Good, because I'm feeling a desire to bathe, after all that."
"The stream here isn't very big," Melpomaen reminded him.
"I don't want to swim, just wash," said Haldir. "Do you want to join me?"
"Let me check the fire," said Melpomaen. It was burning steadily, well-contained within its earthen banks, and so he followed Haldir the few dozen paces to the little creek.
Quickly they shed their clothes and sluiced their bare skin with handfuls of the tepid water. Melpomaen used his tunic – "it needs washing anyway," he assured Haldir – to scrub them both, since the last of their soap had been used up a few days before. Haldir loosed his hair from the clasp that bound it, and, kneeling in the shallow water, bent gracefully backward to rinse out the dust and sweat as best he could.
"A stony bottom may be hard on the feet and knees, but better that than mud when it comes to bathing," he remarked when he had stood up again, the water making his hair look nearly as dark as Melpomaen's.
"And thankfully it's warm, too," said Melpomaen, following suit. Dripping, they picked up their clothes to return to the camp.
"Perhaps too warm," said Haldir. He slapped at a stinging fly, then another. "Ah, well, the fire's smoke should help."
When they had put back on their leggings, Melpomaen offered to comb out and rebraid Haldir's hair. He fully intended to do so, and then let the caresses lead into lovemaking, but much to his dismay he found that despite his lover's closeness and his own longing, his body was not responding to his desires. He finished making the braid and let his hands fall, leaning his head forward to rest against Haldir's bare back, breathing in the scent of flesh which had never before failed to stir him.
Haldir had enjoyed the feel of Melpomaen's hands stroking his hair, teasing out the tangles. He was sufficiently relaxed that it took him a few moments to realize the change. "What is the matter, meldanya?" he asked.
In response, Melpomaen merely wrapped his arms around Haldir's waist and pressed his forehead more firmly into Haldir's back, his eyes closed.
With no answer forthcoming, Haldir twisted in Melpomaen's embrace until they were chest to chest, then took Melpomaen's chin and raised it to look into his eyes. "Don't do this, Maen," he said. "Talk to me. What is troubling you? I know you have qualms about returning home, but earlier you did not seem so distressed. What has happened?"
Melpomaen's cheeks were flushed crimson with humiliation. "I wanted. . . I cannot. . ." he stammered.
"Cannot what?" Haldir's voice was soft with concern, his eyes dark as he laid his hand against Melpomaen's cheek.
"Cannot. . . make love with you," came the strangled whisper from Melpomaen's throat. "I want to, but. . ." he bent his head again.
Haldir followed Melpomaen's gaze, and understood. "Ssh, meldanya, love, ssh," he said, and gathered Melpomaen into a close embrace once more. "It does not matter if you are not ready now, truly, even if I am," he continued, and shifted his own position as if to lend point to his words. "Later this evening, perhaps. We have more than enough time."
"For such a thing to happen now, tonight, though," said Melpomaen in tones of misery. "I am sorry, Dír; I wanted our last night alone together to be perfect."
"Perfection may be too much even to hope for, much less expect," Haldir said thoughtfully.
Melpomaen began to speak, to reject that idea, but found no words to say what he meant. Instead he said, "I suppose then that we might as well eat now. The soup is doubtless ready; if you will cut some bread, we can toast it over the fire."
After the meal, the sun had dipped below the horizon but its light had not yet failed entirely. Melpomaen lay propped on one elbow, watching the scattered clouds deepen from rose to violet as the sky darkened and the first stars began to appear. Haldir sat down behind him.
"It is beautiful, isn't it? Much as I love Lothlórien, I am sorry that we cannot see such sunsets there." He stroked Melpomaen's hair, brushing his fingertips along the edge of Melpomaen's ear and down his neck.
Melpomaen said nothing. His partner's touch seared his skin, but still he felt no answering heat of desire, much to his distress.
"Don't be concerned," Haldir's voice drifted down. "I'm not asking anything of you with this, not until you are ready."
Gentle hands loosened Melpomaen's clothing and he found himself rolled onto his belly with his head turned to the left, away from the fire.
"Close your eyes," instructed Haldir, separating Melpomaen's legs to kneel between them. He reached into his pack, in which lay the remainder of the flask of almond oil that they had purchased in Stonyford. He poured some onto Melpomaen's back and began to rub it in, using firm circular strokes, finding the tight knots in the muscles and gradually loosening them. A sudden sound from the fire as a piece of wood collapsed into coals caused Melpomaen to tense briefly, but he soon relaxed again as Haldir continued to knead his skin.
Haldir hummed in his throat as he worked, unconsciously choosing the final tune Melpomaen had played earlier. He hoped that if Melpomaen's mind were distracted from what the younger Elf clearly saw as a failure, a natural reaction to his own proximity would occur. To that end, he allowed himself to shift after a time to a more caressing motion along the edges of Melpomaen's back, over his hipbones, and across the rounded flesh of his buttocks. Haldir again reached for the oil flask, and a thin stream of oil pooled across the bottom of Melpomaen's spine before Haldir spread it down into the deep cleft, teasing lightly at puckered skin with his right hand while his left reached below to cup Melpomaen's sac and fondle the two stones within.
All the while Haldir murmured to his lover; he scarcely knew what he said himself in the string of endearments and reassurances, and Melpomaen only half-heard them, suspended just short of dreaming, but between the words and the touches he opened, body and mind, to Haldir. Now the warmth that suffused him began to increase, to find a focus. Haldir's forefinger slipped without resistance into Melpomaen's passage, and Melpomaen groaned as the internal caress seemed to set off a cascade of sparks that moved through his groin, rippling the skin of his organ as it hardened against his lover's questing palm.
Melpomaen's hips rose almost without volition as Haldir withdrew his hands. "Meldanya. . . please. . ." came brokenly from his throat.
"I'll be inside you soon," promised Haldir, nudging Melpomaen to roll onto his back. He bent his head and ran his tongue along Melpomaen's quivering length, from root to tip, the loose skin folding back as he tasted the bitter salt of the slit there. His right hand again sought out Melpomaen's nether opening and entered it as Melpomaen drew up his knees to allow Haldir access. Haldir could feel the blood that pulsed through his lover's member, heating it against his lips and tongue, the beat quickening as he touched Melpomaen inside and out.
He sensed Melpomaen's joy in these caresses, tempered with unhappiness that their physical love must end, anxiety for the future, and resentment that they must return where they could not be together; but underlying all an abiding love for and trust in Haldir. As he discerned Melpomaen's emotions, wondering that he could, Haldir's eyes filled with tears at the intensity of it. He suckled harder, his tongue moving insistently across Melpomaen's flesh until he was rewarded with a spurt of fluid against the back of his throat.
Swiftly, before Melpomaen reached a final peak, Haldir released him from his mouth. "Now, Maen, as I promised," he said thickly, and Melpomaen kicked Haldir on the thigh in his haste to turn back over onto his front, propping himself on his forearms, his legs apart and hips raised. Tonight Haldir wanted them both to attain their climax together, a physical symbol of their unity in love, and so knowing how close Melpomaen was, he thrust to reach his own release as soon has he could. He did not quite succeed. Melpomaen's seed burst wetly into his hand while the tension in Haldir's loins was still growing. A half-dozen more deep thrusts, though, brought Haldir to the same point of ecstasy, a delight tempered by the regretful knowledge that this would be the last occasion for such pleasure until some unknown future time.
They rested, listening to the small sounds of the night. At last Melpomaen offered to take the first watch, as he had done so often during the year of their travels, and Haldir slept in the knowledge that his partner stood sentry for them both.
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.