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Water and Stone: 23. Elrond
‘It is a pity you could not stay longer,’ said Elladan. ‘But I suppose you might return?’
‘Yes, I might,’ said Gwirith. ‘I am glad I came. I did not know how much I had missed the ways of the Noldor.’ He looked around the courtyard and beyond at the cliffs that surrounded the valley. ‘It reminds me of my home.’
‘Then you must return soon,’ came Elrond’s voice. Dressed for a journey in shades of muted brown and green, he was drawing on a pair of leather gloves and carrying a travelling pack.
‘Ada?’ said Elladan, surprised.
Elrond handed Gwirith a scroll in a decorated wooden scroll box.
‘Here is the message I wish you to give to Galadriel and Celeborn,’ he said. Elladan looked round at Elrohir, and they smiled at each other.
‘It looks as if you could just as easily give it to them yourself, ada,’ said Elladan. ‘Then Gwirith could stay with us a little longer.’
‘Are you expecting ada to travel without an escort, Elladan?’ said Elrohir, in invented shock.
‘Ignore these two, Gwirith. I am coming with you. There are things I must discuss in Lorien which are too urgent to wait for an answer to arrive by messenger.’
‘Let us come too, we will be your heralds, ada!’ cried Elladan.
‘And announce to all the Lord of Imladris is away from home? I think not, Elladan. Once I leave our borders, my lordship stays behind: I am merely someone travelling to visit his kin.’
‘Send our good wishes to our kin, then, ada, and come back swiftly.’
‘But ada, the fire festival is in three days, you will miss it!’ said Elrohir suddenly. ‘How will you…’ he stopped suddenly and blushed.
‘I will survive, Elrohir. In these times our own pleasures must sometimes be put aside for more important matters. Now, come here,’ he held out his arms and hugged both his sons tightly for a long moment.
‘Behave yourselves while I am gone.’
He mounted his horse, and Gwirith did the same.
‘Farewell, my sons,’ called Elrond as they rode out of the courtyard and on to the path and began to climb the side of the valley. When they reached the end of the straight path, Elrond glanced round. Elladan and Elrohir were standing on the path just outside the courtyard, looking up at him, half a mile away. He raised his hand and hailed them, and saw them do the same. Then he turned and he and Gwirith urged on their horses, and in a moment the Last Homely House was out of sight.
Elrond insisted on haste, and for three days they rode from dawn until long after dusk, stopping only for the briefest possible times to eat and snatch a few hours’ sleep. It was about an hour after dusk on the third day when Elrond’s horse stumbled and he had to brace himself to stay on his back.
‘He is lame, Elrond,’ said Gwirith. ‘You must rest him.’
Elrond swung his leg over his horse’s neck and jumped to the ground.
‘We have forced them to a hard pace,’ he said, looking around at the landscape. They were on a low ridge crowned with ancient trees, unidentifiable in the dark. ‘No matter, this is a good place to stay until dawn. I can hear water nearby.’ He hoisted the saddle off his horse’s back and threw his pack down beside it.
‘Ah, I am weary,’ he said, stretching his arms above his head.
‘If you are stiff, I can ease you with body touch if you wish,’ said Gwirith, pulling his own saddle and pack under a tree. ‘I learnt it a long time ago in Eregion and have found the skill is still in my hands.’
‘Indeed that would be a pleasure,’ said Elrond. ‘But first I must wash. I love my horse, but I fear I smell too much like him after three days on his back.’
Gwirith laughed. ‘I will collect some wood for the fire,’ he said.
Half an hour later he had tended to the horses and was sitting by the small fire he had made in a useful dip between some stones. The moon had not yet risen, and although he heard his footfall he did not see Elrond until he came into the circle of light cast by the flames.
Elrond stood before him, stripped to the waist, his dark hair still dripping down his back. He glanced at Gwirith, then threw his tunic down and folded his long body up to sit comfortably close to the fire.
‘The stream is close by, as I thought,’ he said. ‘The water is cold and sweet; my body is glowing with it.’
Gwirith glanced round at him, but his eyes were distant. ‘I will wash in a moment,’ he said, absentmindedly. Elrond looked at him more closely, then reached for his shirt and tunic and began to put them on.
‘The wind is less chill tonight,’ he said. ‘and these trees give us some shelter. The Valar smile upon our journey.’
‘They are holly trees,’ said Gwirith. ‘We are at the marches of Eregion.’ He looked around him slowly. ‘I confess I both dreaded and longed to return, but there is nothing left but the voice of the wind.’ He fell silent and for a long time the only sound was the hiss of the flames and the soft tearing of the horses feeding on the grass behind them.
‘The glory of the Noldor was here, and their bane,’ said Elrond quietly at last. ‘Although there is not a single stone left standing at Ost-in-Edhil, yet the work that was done at Eregion has brought us here on this night.’
‘The rings of power,’ whispered Gwirith.
‘The end of that story has not yet been told,’ said Elrond. ‘I must speak to Galadriel and Celeborn about what needs to be done. And to Thranduil too, if he will listen.’
‘Would that they had never been made!’ said Gwirith bitterly.
‘Indeed,’ said Elrond. ‘But they have made us what we are.’ He stretched his shoulders, making the little muscles crack. The sound seemed to break Gwirith’s mood, and he stood up.
‘I will go and wash,’ he said, rummaging about in his pack for some soap and clean clothes. ‘Then I will ease you with body touch as I promised.’
Elrond looked at him, and there was something unreadable in his eyes. Gwirith wondered what it was as he walked the short distance to the stream and stripped off his clothes. The water was icy and took away his breath, but soon he felt the warm glow that Elrond had described. He scrubbed himself with the tiny piece of soap that was all he had left, using the last of it on his hair.
As he stood on the bank afterwards, looking out over the edge of the ridge into the valley below, he remembered coming here with Alcarion four centuries before, and all at once he could see his face more clearly than he had since the day of his death. The moon was rising, and Gwirith saw that it was full: tonight was the equinox, the night of festival when new life was celebrated. But he had not celebrated it since Alcarion had died; and maybe now he never would. A wave of desolation washed over him, but he did not grasp hold of it, and it drifted through him, hroa and fea, and out into the night air. The grass was cool beneath his feet as he pulled on his clean shirt and turned back towards the fire.
‘Do you wish to eat?’ asked Elrond, holding out some lembas.
‘No, I have had enough today,’ said Gwirith, rolling up his dirty clothes and stuffing them into his pack. ‘Ah, here it is,’ he said, bringing out a small bottle. ‘Shall I begin now? You probably wish to sleep soon.’
‘There is no need for haste: we have had enough of that these last days,’ said Elrond. ‘Come and warm yourself first.’
Gwirith sat down and held out his hands to the fire. Silence fell between them and grew companionable. The moon was high in the sky now, and cast a cold silver light, but they were hidden from prying eyes by the tall holly trees that surrounded them.
‘It is a long time since I have been out without a crowd of others, household or army,’ said Elrond pensively at last. He turned and saw that Gwirith was braiding his single long lock of hair.
‘Will you tell me now, about your hair?’ he said. Gwirith’s hands paused for an instant, then continued.
‘It was something I wished to do in solidarity with a member of my company,’ he said quietly. ‘He was captured and tormented by the enemy, and his hair was cut.’
‘Celinn!’ breathed Elrond. Gwirith turned to him sharply. ‘Estel told me,’ said Elrond.
Gwirith turned away and his head sank down for a moment between his shoulders.
‘I did it to show him he was not alone. We all did it, all our company. But he is still alone.’
‘Maybe I could help him,’ said Elrond.
‘He will not accept any help,’ said Gwirith. ‘We have all tried to persuade him. There is no more to be done.’ It was clear from his voice that the subject was closed.
Elrond sighed deeply. ‘Well, let us talk of something else,’ he said peaceably.
‘Shall I work your muscles while you talk?’ said Gwirith. Elrond heard the apology in his voice.
‘That would be extremely pleasant,’ he said, and drew off his tunic and shirt. Gwirith reached for the bottle which had been warming on the edge of the fire and knelt behind him. Elrond’s back was broad and brown and pitted with two or three small scars.
‘You have suffered many wounds,’ said Gwirith as he began to smooth the oil onto his skin.
‘They are ancient scars,’ said Elrond. ‘I am Peredhil; I do not heal as cleanly as you would.’
Gwirith loosened Elrond’s shoulders and neck, pressing into the knotted muscles with his thumbs. Elrond sighed with pleasure.
‘You have a good touch,’ he breathed. ‘Firm and yet soothing. Long ago in Lindon, Gilgalad had a body servant whose touch was like being prodded with a blunt stick. I always tried to avoid him after fighting or hunting, but he insisted on doing his duty. I think I had more bruises afterwards than before. Ahh! That is good, Gwirith.’
Gwirith found himself relaxing also as his hands worked the long muscles of Elrond’s sides.
‘This is only the second time I have done this since Alcarion died,’ he said, half to himself.
‘Alcarion?’ said Elrond.
‘He was the other who was with me at Barad-dur when we found you. We were bound lovers,’ he said, surprised at how easy it was now to talk about it. ‘We grew up together in Eregion, and we came to Lorien together.’ His voice deepened a little. ‘After he died, I was nearly broken with grief. I dwelt alone in the forest, far from all others, until I was called to Caras Galadhon last year.’
He lifted his hands from Elrond’s back and came round to kneel in front of him.
‘And now your heart is engaged again,’ said Elrond quietly.
‘It will come to nothing,’ said Gwirith harshly. ‘I have already let him go.’ He busied himself with oiling his hands and reached out to lay them on Elrond’s chest, then stopped in surprise.
‘It is quite safe to touch,’ said Elrond wryly. ‘Remember I am only half an elf.’
Gwirith leaned forward and laid his hands gently on the dark curling hair, then pushed up towards Elrond’s shoulders with his palms.
‘Ah, Gwirith, you are wasted as a bowyer,’ groaned Elrond. ‘Truly you have the hands of a healer.’
Gwirith worked on in silence, the turmoil in his heart soothed as always by the work of his hands. He listened as Elrond talked at length about his father Earendil and about Gil-galad when he was High King in Lindon.
‘Sometimes I am lost in those days and can scarce remember he is gone and I am a loremaster and not a warrior any more,’ he said. ‘But here in Eregion, the shades of the Noldor still dwell, and their long fell story echoes in the stones.’
‘You are right, Elrond,’ said Gwirith, and his voice rang with a strange note. ‘Dwelling in Lorien so long, I had forgotten the stories of my forefathers. But here tonight they come alive again. It was bright Feanor whose fire gave the Noldor their love of beauty and surpassing craftsmanship, and it was that love that built the forges of Eregion. Among the trees and without Alcarion, I had forgotten who I am. Maybe my place is not in Lorien but in Imladris.’
‘And Celinn?’ said Elrond softly.
Gwirith’s hands stopped over Elrond’s heart.
‘He has chosen his life,’ whispered Gwirith. ‘My heart is his, but he says he can never love me. I do not know what to do.’
‘Will you pass long years without love and comfort, Gwirith, while you wait for him?’
‘I do not know,’ repeated Gwirith, not noticing Elrond’s hand resting on his.
‘And how is it, Gwirith, without the gift of the Valar?’ Elrond asked gently, lifting the long braid on Gwirith’s shoulder with one finger.
‘It is cold,’ he said, bleakly. ‘Cold and barren.’
Elrond looked at him, and his eyes were a deep grey. ‘Gwirith, there is something I must ask you,’ he said.
‘What is it?’ said Gwirith.
‘Do you know what night it is?’
‘It is the equinox.’
‘Yes, it is the equinox, the time of new growth.’
‘It is three hundred years since I have celebrated any festival, Elrond,’ said Gwirith. ‘I am no companion for a night such as this.’
His looked down at his hands and seeing Elrond’s covering them, made to move away, but Elrond tightened his hold.
‘Share this night with me, Gwirith,’ he whispered. ‘It is the festival: a night apart from all others. What happens tonight happens out of time, and ends with the dawn. We are Noldor, in the Wild far from home. Let us make something of this night, before our bodies forget what it is to love, and forget those whose touch we long for but will never know again.’
His eyes shone with unshed tears in the firelight, and against his will, Gwirith softened towards him.
‘I do not think I can share it with you,’ he said sadly. ‘It is so long, I think I have forgotten how to love…and then…there is…’
‘Celinn,’ said Elrond. Gwirith nodded mutely, his mouth turning down with sadness.
‘Then let me comfort you for this one night, and we will both forget our longing. In the morning we will take up our journey, and when we reach Lorien I will offer him what healing I can give him, if your heart wishes it.’ There was a long silence. Gwirith had bowed his head, his hands still pressed to Elrond’s chest. Elrond shivered a little.
‘Gwirith?’ he said softly, at last. Slowly Gwirith raised his head, and when Elrond looked into his eyes, he leaned forward until he was so close he could feel Gwirith’s breath on his lips. For a long time they stayed motionless, Elrond’s heart beating hard against Gwirith’s hands. Then Gwirith gave a little sigh and his lips parted, and Elrond closed the space between them and kissed his mouth.
Gwirith gasped and traced the shape of Elrond’s full lips with the tip of his tongue. Elrond’s hands were on his face, pulling him closer, deepening the kiss until they had to wrench themselves apart to take a gasping breath.
Elrond took hold of his shirt and tunic and peeled them off in a single fluid movement, then stripped Gwirith’s shirt from him also. For a moment they stared at each other, not touching, then Elrond pulled Gwirith to him gently and kissed him again. Gwirith’s hands were on Elrond’s chest, tangling in the curling dark hair he had found so strange, his fingertips finding the tiny points of pleasure and circling them until they hardened, making Elrond groan into his mouth.
‘You have forgotten nothing, Gwirith,’ he said thickly, and laying him back to stretch out by the fire, he took hold of his waist and began to run his tongue lightly across his skin, beginning at his navel and tracing a path over Gwirith’s strong compact stomach and lean sides. Gwirith writhed against him but Elrond held him firmly.
When he reached Gwirith’s chest, he stopped and looked at him. ‘I can taste the river on you,’ he said, his eyes shining in the firelight. Gwirith pulled him down and they kissed again, then Gwirith rolled Elrond over so that he was on his back, looking up into his blue-grey eyes.
‘You have the strong dark beauty of the Noldor,’ whispered Elrond. ‘How I have missed it!’
‘Do you always talk so much during lovemaking?’ asked Gwirith, covering Elrond’s mouth with his own. When at last he was able to breathe again, Elrond gasped,
‘Do you always talk so little?’
‘I have better things to do than talk,’ said Gwirith, and he straddled Elrond and, bending over him, fondled the sensitive tip of his ear before tracing it delicately with his tongue. Elrond cried out and arched his back, almost unseating him, but undaunted Gwirith did the same to the other ear, holding Elrond down with both hands on his chest. When at last he straightened up Elrond’s face was flushed and his eyes dilated.
‘How could I have forgotten such pleasure?’ he gasped. Gwirith smiled, transforming his serious features to astonishing beauty.
‘Elrond, we have scarce begun!’ he said, laughing, one hand caressing Elrond’s cheek. A moment later he found his wrist held in an iron grip as Elrond slid out from under him and pulled him to his feet.
‘Well, elfling, let us see what you have to teach me,’ he said, and releasing Gwirith’s wrist, he stripped off his breeches and stood naked in the cool air. Gwirith looked down and saw his hardness, and he rested his hand lightly on Elrond’s thigh.
‘It is you who will have to teach me,’ he said, in a voice of awe.
Elrond looked down at his erection. ‘Did you expect I would be just like an elf when half my blood is of the Secondborn?’ he said softly.
Gwirith did not answer, but instead took his hand and led him to a tall beech tree nearby, gently pushing him against the smooth trunk. Then he knelt down before him and gently pressed his face into Elrond’s groin, caressing Elrond’s manhood with his cheek. Elrond gasped and his cock jerked upwards, and Gwirith slowly turned his face and let Elrond slide into his mouth. Elrond gasped again and seized hold of his cropped head, pushing him down so that he was fully sheathed between Gwirith’s lips.
Gwirith took hold of Elrond’s hips and held him firm against the tree while he worked him with his mouth. Elrond was groaning out loud now, his eyes closed and his hands gripping the trunk of the tree, lost in pleasure. Gwirith closed his eyes too, tasting the sweet musk of Elrond’s juices, running his tongue along the slick ridges of his thick cock. When he felt Elrond begin to tremble in the moment before release, he slid his hand between his legs and pushed gently against the tight cleft between his buttocks. Elrond shuddered and cried out and Gwirith tasted his essence, stronger and saltier than that of an elf.
Gwirith leaned back on to his heels, wiping the back of his hand across his mouth. Elrond was slumped against the tree, breathing hard, and, seeing Gwirith looking up at him, he smiled and sank to his knees.
‘I had forgotten…’ he said in a dazed voice, and he took Gwirith’s face in his hands and kissed him long, savouring the tang of his own seed on his lips.
At last Elrond got to his feet, and pulled Gwirith up with him.
‘You are patient, Gwirith, but I must not keep you waiting any longer,’ he said, and he took him over to a flat stone which reached to waist height near the top of the ridge. Then he pulled Gwirith close to him so that their bodies were pressed tightly together from chest to knee.
‘Shall I ease you as you did me, or do you wish to enter me?’ he said hoarsely.
Gwirith did not reply, instead turning Elrond so that he had his back to the stone and pushing him gently so that he was sitting on its edge. Then he reached for the bottle of oil tucked in his waistband and put it down next to Elrond before taking off his breeches.
Elrond had already poured some oil into his hand and he drew Gwirith closer to him and began to anoint his cock in slow languorous strokes. Gwirith’s lips parted but he made no sound as the sweet juices began to weep from his cock and mix with the oil in Elrond’s hand. At last he stopped Elrond and pushed him back to lie on the stone before beginning to loosen the tight cleft between his legs. Elrond groaned as Gwirith pushed one oiled finger and then two into him, and when he was ready, Gwirith pressed to tip of his cock against the entrance to Elrond’s body and tilted his hips forward. Elrond’s knees fell apart and he arched his back a little to admit him, and after two or three thrusts he was deep inside, pressing down on Elrond’s thighs with both hands. For a long time both Elrond and Gwirith stayed motionless, enjoying the deep pleasure of being joined to one other. Then Gwirith felt a wave of movement rippling through his pelvis and slowly began to thrust into the tight heat of Elrond’s body, rolling forwards until they were locked together and then slowly easing out until Elrond cried out with the loss of him. Gradually he began to move more quickly, pumping harder until they were both crying out with each thrust. Gwirith lost himself then, no longer knowing where he was or with whom he lay, knowing only the blind pleasure of his body until the moment when he spilt himself inside Elrond, and then he opened his eyes and saw the elf-lord stretched out before him, eyes closed and arms flung out either side of him on the hard grey stone.
Slowly Gwirith slid out of Elrond’s body. Elrond opened his eyes then and gave him the same dazed look as before. Gwirith waited for him to speak, but instead he sat up and smiled at him, then reached out and caressed his cheek. Gwirith wrapped his arms around him, running his fingers through the liquid silk of his hair. When at last Elrond stood up and turned him to lie face down against the rock he did not resist, and soon Elrond’s fingers and then his cock entered him. At first Gwirith tensed against the pain of it, but Elrond was gentle and slow and steadied him with his hands on his hips, and when he felt the shudder and throb of Elrond’s release inside him he came again, more gently than before but with a pleasure that warmed him deep into his groin.
It was deep night by now and a chill wind was blowing high on the ridge. Gwirith straightened up and Elrond drew him into his arms.
‘Your skin is cold,’ he said. ‘In our heat we have neglected you.’
‘Let us go to the river,’ said Gwirith. ‘The water will revive us.’
They ran the short distance to the river and threw themselves into the water, and soon their bodies began to hum at its touch. It was too cold to stay in long so they got out and stood dripping on the bank.
‘We must sleep now,’ said Elrond. ‘Otherwise we will not be fit to travel in the morning.’ Gwirith nodded, a little sadly.
‘But let me undo your braid first, Gwirith, it is tangled.’ Elrond reached up and undid the tie and passed his fingers through the plaited hair.
‘It is so dark, it has blue lights in it,’ he said in admiration.
‘And yours has red, like deep flame,’ said Gwirith, his voice husky with cold. Their eyes met then, and then their mouths, and they made love again on the bank of the river, never noticing the sharp little stones that cut into their flesh. Afterwards they had to wash again, rinsing off blood and seed together.
At last they lay together by the fire, covered by their blankets. Gwirith’s head was on Elrond’s breast, and their arms were tight round each other. It was as Elrond had said, a night outside time, and when the sun rose they would be elf-lord and escort again, but for now they lay as lovers in each other’s arms, their bodies warm with the memory of union, tonight and on nights in years long past.
But in the cold hour before dawn, Gwirith woke suddenly, and though his body was relaxed and sated with pleasure, a creeping ache was beginning around his heart. He huddled closer to Elrond, and the elf-lord sighed in his sleep and tightened his arms around him; but the ache grew worse, until the tears came and eased it a little. Elrond stirred and woke then, gazing at him with eyes as dark as the night sky above them. He did not speak, but with one finger traced the lines the tears had made on his cheeks.
‘Your heart still longs for Celinn,’ he said softly at last. ‘And when I woke I thought you were Gil-galad sleeping in my arms. Our bodies know joy, but our hearts are unquiet.’
‘Is there no way to forget this pain?’ said Gwirith harshly.
‘No, there is no way to forget. All we can do is to open ourselves to it with kindness, and give it a place to dwell in our hearts.’ Elrond wiped the last of the tears from Gwirith’s face. ‘But Celinn may yet be yours,’ he said softly. ‘While you both live, there is hope.’
‘You are generous,’ said Gwirith. ‘You speak to me of hope while for you and Gil-galad there is none.’ He closed his eyes but more tears leaked out from under his eyelids and he brushed them away roughly.
‘None until the end of Arda,’ said Elrond gently. ‘Not even the wisest among us knows what is our fate in the mind of the One.’
‘But how do you bear your loneliness? When I lived alone in the forest, I did not know my loneliness; then I called it solitude. But now it pains me like a wound.’
‘I try to bear it lightly; to know it well, not to refuse it; but not to hold it to me either.’ His voice suddenly changed, becoming desolate and weary. ‘But if the pain becomes too sharp, then I pretend to myself that there are ways to forget.’
‘How?’ said Gwirith desperately.
Elrond looked away and did not answer.
‘Like this?’ said Gwirith, lacing his fingers into Elrond’s hair and turning him towards him.
‘Remembering does not work; this time let us try to forget,’ he said in a shaking voice.
Elrond looked into his blue-grey eyes, and Gwirith thought that he would refuse him. But in that cold bleak hour, loneliness seemed to both to be the only truth, and obliterating it essential to survival.
Their coming together was swift and without tenderness, each seeking only to drown in his body’s tide; but when he came, harshly, painfully, Gwirith cried out Celinn’s name, and he wept. Elrond could not comfort him, his own grief being too sharp.
They lay apart and in silence until the first light of dawn touched the sky, then rose and bathed in the stream. All day they rode, dour and melancholy, and far into the night, stopping at the foot of Caradhras. They ate sparingly and, Elrond taking the first watch, Gwirith at once rolled himself into his cloak and slept like the dead. When it was his turn to watch, he stood at some distance, looking out in the moonlight over the misty peaks.
They were on their way before dawn, climbing the track to the Redhorn Gate. The ice between them had thawed a little, but it was later when Gwirith’s horse missed his footing and stumbled that Elrond put out his hand to steady him, and with that touch they came back to themselves and forgot their sadness.
That night while they ate by the fire, Gwirith watched Elrond combing out his dark hair.
‘I am sorry,’ he said gruffly. ‘I should not have asked you that last time.’
Elrond smiled. ‘I have lived long enough to know oblivion brings pain on waking,’ he said. ‘Let us remember the pleasure and comfort we gave one another. That will be enough.’
‘Do not think because I called for him that I will not keep this night in my heart, Elrond,’ said Gwirith. ‘I was afraid, and I agreed to lie with you because it was the festival. But you have given me something beyond words. Celinn has brought my heart back to life, but you have woken my body.’
‘And you mine,’ said Elrond, quietly. ‘And now we have woken, we must go back to lack and loneliness as before.’
‘Maybe it will not be so. Maybe since we are changed, things will change around us.’
‘Think you?’ said Elrond. ‘You have more faith than I.’ He put down the comb and began braiding his hair. ‘Will you stay in Lorien?’ he said quietly.
‘That depends on Celinn,’ said Gwirith. ‘Now my body has known pleasure again, I do not know if I can live in longing which will never be satisfied. He sent me away because my love hurt him too much; maybe in time it will come to hurt me also.’ He fell silent, frowning into the fire.
‘I will do what I can to help him, Gwirith,’ said Elrond.
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