9. Rabbit or Tortoise?
Once his eyes had adjusted to the dim light of the dying fire, he rolled over quietly and lay with one arm cradling his head, watching Haldir from under lowered lids. The older Elf was seated against a tree, his head up in an attitude of attention, but now and then he shook it as if in disagreement with some interior voice. Melpomaen wondered if his lover was still worried by his confession of the previous evening.
"Heavy thoughts, Dír?" he said softly.
Haldir turned quickly toward him, his pensive expression disappearing as a smile lit his face.
"Yes, I suppose so," he admitted. "More of what we discussed last night, I fear. But now that you are awake I will put them away for this time."
He stood, stretching, and moved to sit down next to Melpomaen. "Did you rest well?" he asked, stroking Melpomaen's dark hair. "I hope you did not wake early from any ill dream."
"No," said Melpomaen, "I dreamt of you, in fact, a most pleasant dream indeed." He reached out to brush his fingers along Haldir's leg, letting them linger suggestively on his thigh.
Haldir raised an eyebrow. "Well, we did intend to stay here a day and see if we could find any game to hunt, before we set off on the trek through the forest; so there is no real need to rush off this morning, is there?" He stretched out beside Melpomaen.
"None at all," agreed the younger Elf. "But I am a bit thirsty; could you pass me your water bottle?" He drank deeply, rinsing the staleness of sleep from his mouth, and restoppered the flask before setting it to one side. "That is better," he said, and gave Haldir a tender, lingering kiss.
Haldir closed his eyes, feeling Melpomaen's tongue explore his mouth and flicking his own tongue in appreciative response. This was a far better way to spend the last hour of the night than brooding over an apparently insoluble problem. He sighed deep in his throat, flickers of heat darting along all his limbs and reconverging into the warmth growing in his groin. He shifted to take his lover into his arms.
Melpomaen shook his head firmly. "You led the way last night, meldanya. Now it is my turn." Swiftly he removed Haldir's shoes and clothing, until he lay with his bared flesh gleaming faintly in the last glow of the fire, his proud organ already nearly erect against his stomach. Haldir shivered as the chill predawn air struck him, and Melpomaen covered him lightly with the blanket as he himself stood.
"Since you enjoyed watching me once before, when I was unaware, let us see if you like it as well this time," he said, slowly beginning to remove his own garments.
Haldir's eyes were fixed on him as he teasingly drew off his clothes, lingering on each item and removing it partway, then restoring it so that he seemed almost to be putting as many things back on as he took off. Naked at last, Melpomaen drew his hands across his chest, each thumb rubbing across a nipple until it hardened. Then he stroked down his sides and across his belly, near to but not quite touching his own hard member.
He believed that Haldir was enjoying the sight, but asked anyway. "Do you like this, Dír? Does it excite you? It does me. I think of how your hands would feel on me, doing this," and he took his organ into his hand, rubbing up and down the length of the shaft.
Haldir's lips were parted and his breath came in rapid pants. "It excites me, oh yes Maen, very much indeed." He pushed back the blanket to show his own hand busy about his pulsing member.
"No, wait. Do not touch yourself," requested Melpomaen. "Eyes only, for now. Let me do the touching."
The golden-haired Elf groaned, but removed his hand. Melpomaen knelt, resting his weight on his heels, just out of Haldir's reach. He continued to fondle himself, carefully keeping his strokes gentle so he would not become too stimulated, too soon, but permitting himself to make small sounds of pleasure.
When he saw Haldir's hand moving back towards his aching erection, Melpomaen stopped. "I told you, no touching yourself yet."
Haldir growled deep in his throat and said, "I cannot restrain myself, watching you. You would have to bind my hands to prevent me."
"If that is what it takes," said Melpomaen. He picked up his discarded tunic. Haldir's eyes widened, but he allowed his hands to be tied together behind his back without demur, first sitting upright and cross-legged.
Melpomaen returned to his position in front of Haldir, moving closer until their knees barely grazed one another. He leaned forward to kiss his partner, and found it ardently returned. Since Haldir was unable to reach out and embrace Melpomaen, he focused all the intensity of his passion through his mouth. When they finally broke from the kiss, both Elves felt overwhelmed by the sensation.
Haldir leaned back, bracing himself carefully against his bound hands, and shifted his weight, hoping to entice Melpomaen to kiss or touch him further. He was partially rewarded when a finger was run lightly up the inside of first his left thigh, then his right, teasingly stopping just short of his groin. Once again Haldir gave a muted growl.
"Does that not feel good?" asked Melpomaen in mock innocence.
"You know it does," was the reply. "So good it is a torment to me. Please, Maen, do not keep me waiting much longer. I can scarcely bear it."
Melpomaen nodded. He was finding it difficult to maintain control, himself. "One moment more, Dír. I have made a small error in my preparations, here." He slipped over to their packs to find the flask of scented oil. Returning, he poured a little on his hand, first spreading it on his own member, then on Haldir's. Moving behind his partner, he unbound his arms and urged him to his hands and knees. Haldir eagerly obliged and Melpomaen inserted first one finger, then another into him, feeling for that spot which he knew would bring the greatest pleasure. When he heard a stifled moan, he moved his fingertip more rapidly. Haldir cried out. Melpomaen withdrew his hand, and kneeling up placed the tip of his erection against the tight opening, reaching around to grasp Haldir's slick shaft.
"Oh, now, yes," Haldir's voice broke as Melpomaen drove slowly into him. "Maen, I cannot wait any longer," and he convulsed, spilling his hot fluid over the hand clasping him.
Melpomaen was nearly to climax as well. He clasped Haldir's hips and thrust hard, burying himself deep within. Haldir contracted around him and the pressure tipped him over the edge. Crying out Haldir's name, he gave in to the delight and released into the hot recesses of his lover's body.
At that moment the first light of dawn turned the damp air around them to glittering pearl. The beauty of the breaking day seemed to each of them to reflect and expand the joy they found together: repeated often, yet always new.
Haldir lay on his side, his lover pressed close behind him. He drew Melpomaen's arm around his body and brought his hand to his lips.
"Maen," he murmured.
"That was – a surprise to me, how you acted. I enjoyed it, do not think otherwise, but I am not certain I would wish to be bound again. There need be no coercion between us."
Melpomaen raised himself up on one elbow so he could see Haldir's face more clearly. "You know I would never do something you objected to, Haldir," he said seriously. "If that bothered you, I wish you had spoken. I meant only to be playful, to heighten your pleasure."
"I know, meldanya, I know. And that is why I said nothing at the time; for it was indeed pleasurable, and more than that. But in a way uncomfortable as well, which is why I now say that I do not think I wish to repeat it." He quirked an eyebrow at Melpomaen. "Although should you wish to try it yourself, sometime, I might be willing."
The younger Elf chuckled. "Perhaps. We shall see. I am glad you are not upset."
"Oh, no. Here, put your arms around me. Let us lie together for a little while as the sun rises, and watch the air come alive with light, even here under the trees," said Haldir.
And so they did, the fever of their bodies cooling, their two chests rising and falling as one as their breathing slowed and deepened. Eventually Melpomaen shifted, drawing his arm back.
"I'm sorry, Dír, but my arm is getting numb," he said, sitting up and rubbing it with his other hand.
"We should begin the day, anyhow, I suppose," Haldir agreed, sitting up likewise. He reached for the flask of water that Melpomaen had earlier set aside, and dampening a cloth, began to clean off first himself and then his partner, before they dressed again.
"Oh, Nienna's tears!" swore Melpomaen.
"What is it?"
"I forgot to prepare anything to break our fast with," apologized Melpomaen shamefacedly. "There is only cram, unless you want to test your jaw with some very firm dried fruits."
"Cram will have to do," said Haldir. "We were going to look for game today anyhow, so why do you not put some fruit to soak, and we can have a more interesting noon meal than we do when we travel through the day. Now, I think the thing to decide is what sort of game to pursue, and how we want to hunt it."
"I rather thought a deer. There would be enough and more than enough meat to take us through the forest, I would think," Melpomaen said.
"That is certainly true. Indeed we would have trouble using it all before it went bad; and we really don't have the time to stop and preserve it. I had thought perhaps rabbit. I believe I saw a substantial warren in the last meadow we passed through yesterday," Haldir responded.
"I'm surprised you noticed it. You were a bit distracted, after all," said Melpomaen. He regretted the comment as soon as he spoke, for a shadow crossed Haldir's face at the reminder, and hastily added, "Shall we look at the warren and discuss it? How had you planned to hunt them?"
"Snares, probably. Unless you brought a sling with you? I did not," said Haldir.
"Nor I. Let us go look, then," said Melpomaen, finishing his cram and standing up.
They retraced their steps of the previous day back to the edge of the forest. Haldir pointed obliquely. "There, up away from the water side," he said.
Melpomaen glanced over and nudged him with an elbow. "Race you halfway," he said, "as far as that lone tree there."
"All right," said Haldir. "Ready – set – run!"
The two were closely matched, but gradually Melpomaen pulled a few paces ahead. Just as he was closing in on the tree serving as their mark, Haldir saw him stumble and go down. A moment later Haldir was kneeling at his friend's side.
"Are you hurt?" he asked, worry painting his features.
The expression on Melpomaen's face was a peculiar mixture of annoyance and pain. "Yes, I am," he said through clenched teeth. "My right ankle, and my left arm. I think the arm may be broken."
Haldir carefully felt it with his fingertips. "I fear you are correct," he said soberly. "Try not to move it for the moment, while I look at your ankle. Can you turn your foot at all?"
Luckily the injury to Melpomaen's ankle proved to be only a sprain. Haldir bit his lip and frowned.
"I am loath to tear up my tunic to bind it, but I do not see anything else that will serve. No, wait, I will have to cut yours off anyhow – must not pull it over your poor arm – so that will do. Just a moment."
Quickly he slit the fabric and eased it away from the swelling flesh. With part he bound up Melpomaen's ankle; then he used a sturdy fallen branch to fashion a temporary splint for his arm, held in place with the remaining strips of cloth.
"That is the best I can do, here," he said. "Can you put weight on your foot now?"
Melpomaen got awkwardly to his feet, using Haldir's arm to pull himself up. "As long as we walk slowly, and I can lean on you, I can make it back to our camp," he said. His face was pallid from the shock of the accident, and sweat beaded his brow as each step shot pain through his ankle.
"It will be all right," said Haldir gently. "Here, take my left arm."
They slowly returned to the camp, and Melpomaen sank gratefully onto the blankets.
"We do not really have much for healing here," said Haldir, rummaging through his pack. He looked over at his partner with concern. "I'm sorry to have to make you wait longer, but you must. I will be back as soon as I can."
"Where are you going?" asked Melpomaen.
"To gather some herbs that will help you. I will just build up the fire again first, and set some water to heat. Here, take this." He passed the water bottle over. "Try not to move too much till I return."
Melpomaen waited as patiently as he could. He had had far worse injuries before, of course, but his pain this time was greater from the knowledge that it was his own ill-judgment that had caused it. Going to find a rabbit warren, why had he not kept a more careful eye out for an unexpected hole? Before he had finished castigating himself, however, Haldir returned.
"See, here," he showed the fruits of his efforts to Melpomaen. "Boneset root and hound's-tongue – I can make a poultice from those to set your arm, and use their leaves to soothe your ankle as well. And I will brew some tea from the willow-bark and nettle, to ease the pain and help keep your blood flowing through the injured limbs."
Haldir busied himself with preparing the remedies as Melpomaen watched him intently.
"Where did you learn all of this? I am familiar with willow-bark for aches, of course, but the others..."
The golden-haired Elf shrugged. "Here and there. From my mother, mostly, I suppose. She is very fond of her garden, and taught me much of the properties of the plants she grows there and of wild herbs also. Useful to know, now, though at home it is knowledge rarely needed. Stand up a moment, Maen, and let me take off your leggings first before I start slopping this poultice around." Those removed, he carefully unwound the bindings from Melpomaen's arm and applied the thick paste he had prepared. "Hold still, now, and let that harden, while I treat your ankle. Then you can have a cup of nice bitter tea."
"Faugh," said Melpomaen, making a face. "Bitter is right."
"Well, if you are going to damage yourself like that..."
Melpomaen looked over quickly and saw Haldir smiling at him.
"You know I am only jesting," said Haldir, and kissed his brow. "How does that feel?"
"Much better," said Melpomaen gratefully. "But I do not think I am going to be able to travel for several days."
"No, that would be unwise, at least until your ankle is better," said Haldir, "though I do not think we want to wait for your arm to heal; the season moves on, and we must too. We will simply have to be especially careful and make certain we avoid any dangerous animals or Orcs, rather than risk fighting them."
Melpomaen nodded, and blinked back tears.
"Is the pain still so great?" asked Haldir with concern.
"I feel such a fool," confessed Melpomaen. "Slowing us down like this, and injuring myself during a silly pointless race rather than from some reasonable cause like a fight."
"Now, don't blame yourself, meldanya," soothed Haldir, moving around behind him and kneading the tight muscles of his bowed neck. "Accidents can always happen. We will cope. But perhaps, instead of rabbits, I will look for a deer. If we must stay here for a few days, there will be time to preserve the meat, at least well enough to see us through Mirkwood. So you see, the time will not be wasted entirely. And we can talk, and be well-rested before we continue our journey home."
Melpomaen inclined his head in acceptance, and let the tension of self-blame flow from him under Haldir's strong hands.