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Water and Stone: 27. The First of May
‘Is the bonfire built?’
‘Yes,’ said Orophin. ‘High enough to burn until dawn. Do you think anyone will leap it this year?’
‘Maybe,’ said Haldir. ‘There are always surprises.’
‘And some that are not.’
‘Do you mean Celinn and Gwirith?’
‘What begins to burn between them could challenge the bonfire itself,’ said Orophin.
‘It may be too soon. It is only one turn of the moon since Celinn was healed, and after what he has endured…’
‘They will be bound, Haldir, whether this year or the next. And you, brother? When will your binding be?’
Haldir smiled sadly. ‘Not this year, Orophin. Not this year.’
‘Guardian,’ said a quiet voice behind him, and he turned to see Gwirith standing at his elbow. ‘All the guard posts are staffed as you requested. We have enough guards to reduce everyone’s duty to half so that all may come to the fire festival.’
‘Good,’ said Haldir. ‘Your company is dismissed.’
Gwirith went over to the garden beside the guardroom where the rest of his company were sitting, relaxing now that their duty was over, their weapons stacked on the ground. Sirion was playing a game of knuckle bones with Aiglin, while Luinil watched, his arm draped carelessly over Aiglin’s shoulder.
‘Gwirith, where is Celinn?’ asked Aiglin. ‘I want to ask him something.’
‘Rumil wanted to talk to him,’ said Gwirith, stretching out full length on the grass. The sun was warm and he undid the lacing of his shirt a little, feeling the heat touching the triangle of skin at the base of his throat. He closed his eyes, listening to the murmur of voices around him and the click of the knuckle bones as Sirion caught them on the back of his hand. He was just beginning to drift off to sleep when he heard Celinn’s voice. At once he was wide awake, his body tingling with his nearness.
He opened his eyes and pushed himself up on his elbow. Celinn was talking to Haldir, but as Gwirith moved he turned his body slightly, and a look of such electricity passed between them that Haldir stopped talking for a moment. There was a moment’s pause. The knuckle bones had fallen silent and all conversation in the garden had stopped. Then Haldir began to speak again. Gwirith lay down on his back and closed his eyes, trying to control the trembling of his heart. A moment later Celinn sat down beside him.
‘How have I borne to be so long away from you, heart of my heart?’ he whispered, tracing his finger down Gwirith’s cheek. Gwirith gasped, turning his face and catching Celinn’s fingertip in his mouth and biting it.
‘Ai! Why so harsh?’
‘To quench the fire that burns in me, now when it cannot be shown,’ he said, his eyes dark with desire.
Celinn laughed but he could not look away, and after a moment he stooped down and kissed him, quick and hard.
‘Stop!’ said Gwirith, laughing also as he struggled up to a sitting position. ‘This is not the time.’
‘Celinn,’ said Aiglin’s voice beside him. ‘Will you sing tonight?’
Celinn’s mood changed instantly. ‘No,’ he said sadly. ‘Maybe at Midsummer, Aiglin.’
‘Caranfir was counting on you.’
‘I cannot. Neither music nor words are ready.’
Aiglin sat down, and the other members of the company drifted over to them, as they always did whenever Celinn was near.
‘How many promisings do you think there will be?’ said Aiglin.
Celinn’s hand slipped under the linen of Gwirith’s shirt and caressed his back, out of sight of the others.
‘Every year you ask me this question, Aiglin,’ he said. ‘Do you think I can see the future, like the Lady?’
‘That reminds me: has your gift returned?’ said Aiglin.
‘Somewhat,’ said Celinn, ‘though not yet as clearly as before.’
Gwirith stirred a little, making a sound in his throat which he turned into a cough, and leaning closer to Celinn. Aiglin glanced at him briefly, then looking up at the sun, he said,
‘How many hours until sunset?’
‘Four, I should say,’ replied Luinil. ‘You had better start getting ready for the festival at once.’
‘There is no need,’ said Aiglin, lying back on the grass. ‘I am so ravishing that I could go just as I am and be courted by all Lorien for my favours.’
‘I see that your sense of humour has returned along with your brother’s health,’ said Luinil, wryly.
‘You mock me, Luinil!’ cried Aiglin in pretended anger, rearing up and seizing his arm. ‘No favours for you tonight!’
‘Not even if I ask very nicely?’ said Luinil softly, tilting Aiglin’s chin with one finger.
‘It is too late,’ said Aiglin. ‘You will have to wait until the next festival.’ He lay back again and stretched luxuriously. ‘I wonder what I should wear, in fact? Celinn, what do you think?’
Celinn’s hand had crept round to Gwirith’s waist, and he had to turn carefully to answer his brother.
‘The silver? Or the dark blue?’
‘Neither,’ said Aiglin dismissively. ‘The green, maybe. Come with me and help me choose.’ He took hold of Celinn’s hand and began to pull him to his feet. Unbalanced, Celinn instinctively tightened his grip on Gwirith before regaining his equilibrium and standing up. Gwirith drew in a sharp breath but the sound of it was drowned by the renewed conversation as everyone decided to follow Aiglin’s example and begin their preparations for the evening. Gwirith got to his feet and collected his weapons with the others, then fell into step beside Celinn.
‘I have not decided yet, Aiglin,’ Celinn was saying. ‘Stop fretting, brother, I will choose in my own time.’
He did not turn to Gwirith, but his hand reached out for him discreetly and their fingers twined together tightly beneath their cloaks. Celinn’s hand was warm and he stroked Gwirith’s wrist gently with his thumb while keeping up a steady flow of conversation with his brother. Gwirith began to shiver at his touch, so much so that Luinil asked him whether he was cold.
When they reached Celinn and Aiglin’s talan, Celinn slid his hand out of Gwirith’s.
‘Until later, then,’ Celinn said, glancing quickly at him before turning to climb the ladder after Aiglin and the others. Following Celinn’s lead, Gwirith turned at once to follow Luinil who was already a little way ahead, but before he could take a single step, Celinn had spun him round and kissed him lightly but with such tenderness that long after as he walked home beside Luinil, he could still feel the touch of Celinn’s lips on his, and the burning place where Celinn’s thumb had caressed his wrist.
Celinn’s company were on first watch at the gate of Caras Galadhon. It was a warm clear night and the gibbous moon had already passed its peak. Many of the guards showed a greater than normal interest in its passage across the sky, for their duty would end when it was half way to setting, at midnight. The usual calm alertness prevailed, but beneath that there was an undercurrent of anticipation, as each looked forward to the celebrations of the evening, to trysts already made with nis or ner or to unexpected meetings under the trees.
Celinn stood straight as a spear, looking out over the concealed parapet, Gwirith by his side. Aiglin watched him from a little distance away.
‘I wonder what this night will bring them,’ he said quietly to Luinil. ‘It is so long since Celinn has shared a festival night. Oh, Luinil, I am sorry…’
‘It is no matter,’ said Luinil. ‘Although I love him still, it is with a brother’s love. I am glad that he has made Gwirith so happy.’
‘And you, Luinil? Who will be your partner tonight?’
‘I have no partner,’ said Luinil, looking away from him. There was a long silence. Aiglin looked over the parapet at a stir of night birds in the trees, then he said,
‘Well, and nor have I as yet. Maybe we should meet at moonset at the bonfire if neither of us has found another.’ Something flickered in his eyes for a moment and then was gone.
‘Very well,’ said Luinil lightly. ‘But since you will have all Lorien at your feet, you are hardly likely to have time for me…’
Aiglin laughed, but his eyes held Luinil’s. ‘We will see what the night brings for us, then,’ he said.
An hour later Haldir dismissed the first watch, and they trooped down the steps and stacked their weapons in the guardroom, exchanging bawdy talk with their fellow guards who had already begun to celebrate before coming on duty. Haldir untangled a garland of ivy and may blossom from Haroth’s hair as he went up the steps.
In a few moments the square in front of the guardroom was empty, and Celinn and Gwirith stood alone in the pale silver light, their dim shadows stretched out before them. Now that the time had come to celebrate, Celinn seemed subdued and melancholy.
‘Gwirith…’ said Celinn softly. Gwirith waited. ‘If I cannot…’
‘Then it is no matter, beloved,’ said Gwirith gently. ‘Truly, it is no matter.’
Celinn raised his strained white face to him. ‘I will meet you where we agreed,’ he whispered, and he turned and was gone.
Gwirith sat on an embroidered blanket at the foot of a mallorn, a travelling light hanging from the lowest branch. The air was thick with the scent of the white flowers that climbed its trunk on their thick stems, twining themselves round the branches and dropping their broad petals on the ground around the tree like a perfumed carpet.
He had been waiting for a long time. His heart was beginning to ache, but he knew he would wait all night if he had to, so he leaned back against the tree with a sigh and pulled his blue cloak around him for comfort. Time passed, and his body began to long for Celinn. He rested his head on his upraised knees and thought of nothing, listening to his own breath in his chest.
The moon was about to set when at last he heard faltering steps coming towards him through the beech mast and the leaves of the mellryn that covered the forest floor. Celinn appeared, limping a little, and stopped in front of him, his face drawn with misery. He wore his old unbleached and undecorated linen tunic and breeches, and he brought no garland or gift with him.
‘I am sorry…’ he whispered. ‘I nearly did not come, but I wanted to see you.’
Gwirith smiled at him and gestured to him to sit beside him, but Celinn remained standing, awkward and ill at ease.
‘I…I long for you, Gwirith…but…’
‘But you are afraid,’ said Gwirith. Celinn nodded, his face bleak.
‘Then do not be. Let us rest together. That is enough, my dearest.’
At last Celinn sighed and knelt down on the blanket, coming into Gwirith’s arm and laying his head on his shoulder.
‘This is fine stuff,’ he said, feeling the soft cloth of Gwirith’s shirt.
‘Alfirin made it for me,’ said Gwirith.
‘Alfirin? But we are not bound,’ exclaimed Celinn. ‘You are not kin.’
‘I know we are not. But I have no female kin to dress me for the festival. Was it not a kindness on her part?’ said Gwirith soothingly.
‘I suppose so,’ said Celinn, looking up at him. ‘The blue matches your eyes.’
‘That is why she chose it,’ said Gwirith.
Celinn sighed and nestled more closely against him. Gwirith wrapped his cloak around them both, holding Celinn tightly, feeling the warmth of his body ignite a tingling charge deep in his groin. Gwirith stirred restlessly, letting his head drop back against the tree and closing his eyes. He became aware of Celinn’s hand resting just below his waist, separated from his skin by only the thickness of a single layer of cloth. The thought aroused him further and he felt himself hardening, and his mind was filled with images of himself and Celinn joining passionately together, liberated from the fear that hounded them.
‘Gwirith?’ said Celinn softly. ‘You’re trembling. Are you cold?’
‘A little,’ Gwirith forced himself to say. ‘But I will soon be warm now you are here.’ Desperate that Celinn should not be troubled by his need, Gwirith used the skill Galadriel and Celeborn had taught him, allowing the growing energy of arousal to pool at the base of his spine, then opening himself gently and allowing it to stream upwards, through his gut, then up into his heart, until it reached the crown of his head, flowing evenly through his body. His erection softened and he sighed, feeling the pleasure of Celinn’s closeness without the pressing urge to act on it that he had a few minutes before.
But it was Celinn who was trembling now, and looking down at his shadowed face, Gwirith saw the tears on his cheeks.
‘Do not weep, Celinn,’ he said gently, lifting Celinn’s face and wiping it with his fingers. ‘The time will come when you are ready for us to love one another.’
‘Gwirith, you used Galadriel’s lesson, did you not? You desired me, but you have changed your energy for my sake. I feel it in you.’
‘I have,’ said Gwirith, a little taken aback. ‘But I would not trouble you with my desires, my dearest, now when we are not yet ready to be together.’
Celinn struggled out of Gwirith’s arm and stared at him, his sea-green eyes very bright. ‘Gwirith, I do not understand. If I am healed, then why am I still afraid?’
‘Maybe you are not yet healed of your fear,’ said Gwirith gently.
‘Well, I would be healed of it, and tonight.’ He took Gwirith’s face in his hands and began to kiss him passionately. Startled, Gwirith did not respond at once, but the feel and taste of Celinn’s mouth on his was intoxicating, and he closed his eyes and melted against him. The kiss deepened and grew, and hope rose in Gwirith that Celinn was breaking though his fear. But then Celinn’s shaking hands were fumbling with the lacings of his shirt, tearing at them. Gwirith opened his eyes, suddenly cold and empty of desire, and saw Celinn’s face, desperate and streaked with tears. Very gently Gwirith drew away and laid his hand over Celinn’s as it continued to struggle with the laces at his neck.
‘Celinn, my beloved,’ he said, low and quiet. ‘This is not the way.’
Celinn jerked back from him as if he had been burnt. For several long moments he stared horrified at Gwirith, not touching him, then backed away slowly until he was out of arm’s reach.
‘I’m sorry,’ he whispered, and began to shake violently. Gwirith was at his side in an instant, holding him tightly in his arms and murmuring soothingly to him. Celinn kept saying ‘I’m sorry,’ over and over again until Gwirith began to rock him gently, and at last after a long time the shivering finally subsided.
‘Shall we go home, Celinn?’ said Gwirith softly.
‘No,’ said Celinn, eyes still wide and shocked. ‘Help me, Gwirith.’
Gwirith laid him down on his back on the embroidered blanket, and he rested his healer’s hands over his heart until the edge of the fear had gone and he felt Celinn relax a little. Celinn smiled at him tentatively, and Gwirith leaned down and kissed him gently, stroking his hair back from his damp forehead.
‘Shall I stop now, beloved?’ he asked. ‘The night is far advanced, and you must be very tired.’
‘No, Gwirith. Do not stop,’ said Celinn, and though the shadow of fear was still on his face, he spoke calmly and trustfully.
Gwirith smiled at Celinn tenderly and made him sit up and, rubbing his hands together quickly to warm them, he knelt behind him and began to work the tight muscles of his scalp, probing with the strong tips of his fingers until Celinn sighed and closed his eyes. When he had finished, Gwirith reached for a bottle of fragrant oil and, pouring some on his hands, massaged Celinn’s neck in long strokes.
‘Tonight, I am touching you,’ he whispered. ‘Tonight and all the days and nights after this, and all those places on your body which hold your fear, I will hallow with my love, and drive away all darkness from them.’
Celinn groaned deep in his throat, and Gwirith bent down to press kisses all along the underside of his jaw, feeling his strong pulse fluttering just beneath the skin.
‘Here is one such place,’ said Gwirith, laying his lips in the curve between Celinn’s neck and left shoulder, where Adanwath had bitten him. ‘And here,’ another kiss where the knife had drawn blood.
‘I don’t want to remember,’ said Celinn in a shaking voice.
‘Then forget, beloved, and I will remember for you,’ said Gwirith, and he undid the laces of Celinn’s old shirt and drew it over his head. Celinn’s skin glowed like dark gold in the light of the lamp, and Gwirith leaned against his warm back and pressed his cheek against his skin, his arms clasped around his chest. Celinn rocked gently against him, and then Gwirith’s fingers began to stroke his chest, finding the smooth nipples and caressing them until they hardened. Celinn gasped and arched his back, turning his face to find Gwirith’s mouth. Gwirith bent himself across Celinn’s shoulder and they kissed, but Celinn pulled him round to kneel in front of him, lacing his fingers in Gwirith’s hair, staring at him with eyes filled with fear and desire in equal parts.
‘I love you, Gwirith,’ he said, breathless. ‘Let me feel your hands on me. As long as I can feel your touch, I know I am safe.’
Gwirith moved closer to him then, passing his hands under Celinn’s arms and taking hold of his strong back and exploring the flat hard shoulder blades beneath the skin before running his oiled fingers up and down his spine. Celinn cried out, a sound halfway between pleasure and pain, and Gwirith spread out his fingers and passed his open hands firmly down Celinn’s sides from shoulder to waist.
‘Can you feel my touch, Celinn?’ he whispered. ‘I am holding you fast, beloved. I will never let you go.’
Celinn pulled him into his arms and buried his face in Gwirith’s shoulder. ‘Hold me,’ he gasped. ‘I am afraid.’
‘There is nothing to be afraid of, Celinn,’ Gwirith said gently, clasping him tightly. ‘I am here with you.’ After a while he disentangled himself and drew off his own shirt, then pulled Celinn against him again, skin against skin. Celinn sighed with deep pleasure, rubbing his cheek against Gwirith’s chest.
‘I can feel your heart,’ he whispered, and he turned his face and pressed his mouth to Gwirith’s skin, the vibration tingling through his lips. ‘Your skin is so warm.’ He nuzzled his face against him, searching for the tiny sensitive points of pleasure, and when he found them he opened his mouth and covered them, tracing their shape with the tip of his tongue.
Gwirith cried out, shuddering with the exquisite sensation, and for a moment there was darkness before his eyes, but he mastered himself, telling himself that Celinn’s pleasure and ease mattered more than his own, and there would be time enough for himself later.
Celinn’s tongue was tracing a path down Gwirith’s chest towards his waist, both arms curled round his body almost desperately tight. Gwirith caressed his bowed head.
‘My dearest Celinn, my best beloved,’ he murmured, savouring the warmth of Celinn’s touch and the contrasting chill of the air on his wet skin where Celinn’s mouth had passed.
At last Celinn reached Gwirith’s navel, pressing a kiss into it before folding himself up, arms locked around Gwirith’s waist, head resting in his lap. His hair reached down to the line of his jaw now, and it had fallen across his face so that Gwirith could not see his eyes. He became very still, breathing gently, unspeaking. At last he said faintly,
‘I do not know if I can go any further, Gwirith.’
‘Then I will help you, my heart,’ whispered Gwirith, and raising him to sit up, he kissed him then pushed him back gently on to the blanket. Celinn lay stretched out on his back, stiff and straight, his legs pressed tightly together.
‘Trust me, my love,’ Gwirith said softly, and leaning down, rubbed his cheek against the faint scar below Celinn’s ribs, turning his mouth and humming quietly into it. Celinn gasped and twined his fingers into Gwirith’s hair as the vibration rippled through him, and then Gwirith breathed in, feeling the dark energy below the scar leaving Celinn’s body. He raised his head and exhaled into the air, then bent down and breathed in again. After he had done this several times, Celinn abruptly relaxed and his hips loosened so that his knees fell apart, and his sexual parts pressed up against the soft cloth of his breeches.
Gwirith’s fingers travelled slowly down to his waist, stroking him with feather light touches against his smooth golden skin. Celinn began to breathe more gently, and when Gwirith passed one arm under his waist and laid his head on his belly, he barely stirred. For a long time Gwirith stayed motionless, feeling the heat of Celinn’s groin against the skin of his flushed cheek. Then very slowly he turned his face and pressed his lips to the place where the cloth of Celinn’s breeches was stretched over his soft cock. Celinn’s hips twitched and a tremor passed through his body, but although Gwirith could feel Celinn’s energy pulling away, he did not move.
Hardly daring to breathe, Gwirith reached for the laces of Celinn’s breeches and loosened them, then opened the vial of oil one handed and poured a few drops into his palm, working it into his own skin with his fingers. In the few seconds it had taken him, Celinn’s body had tensed and he had closed his eyes tightly.
‘Celinn, if you wish, I will stop now,’ said Gwirith quietly.
‘No…Gwirith,’ said Celinn, with difficulty. ‘You…must go on. I…want you to…go on.’
Gwirith withdrew his arm from under Celinn’s body and stripped off his own clothes, then, kneeling between Celinn’s legs, he gently drew off his breeches. Gwirith was opening the vial of oil again when Celinn began to shudder suddenly. Throwing the bottle aside, Gwirith pulled Celinn’s naked body up into his arms, holding him tightly against his chest. His head was heavy on Gwirith’s shoulder as he wept soundlessly, his tears running along Gwirith’s collarbone and trickling down his body.
‘Sweetheart, we have done enough for one night,’ said Gwirith desperately. ‘Let us stop now.’
‘No!’ cried Celinn hoarsely. ‘Please, Gwirith. Finish it, I beg you!’
Gwirith’s head sank down between his shoulders. It was a torment to him to make love to so unwilling a partner, but he knew there was no easy way for Celinn to push through the terrible fear that gripped him at this moment. So he pressed a kiss to Celinn’s temple, murmuring softly to him, and began to caress the soft golden brown hairs that curled like soft springs around Celinn’s groin, and his sleeping cock that nestled within them.
Although his touch was tender, Celinn found it so difficult to bear that his fingers dug into Gwirith’s shoulder like hot nails, and his knees came together so tightly that Gwirith had to push them gently apart to reach him. Celinn wept silently without cease, and Gwirith’s chest and belly were wet with his tears. Gwirith had never known an act of love that was such agony, and he did not know what else to do to ease Celinn’s pain, so he continued to caress him, gently stroking the skin that sheltered the soft glans between his fingers, tenderly cupping the balls in their loose sac, and finally simply covering Celinn with his hand, holding him firm and safe, while one finger reached out to feel the edge of the secret opening to his body.
A long time passed, and Celinn still wept and trembled. Almost in despair, Gwirith said suddenly,
‘It is time to let go now, Celinn, my beloved. You must let it all go.’
‘Let…go?’ said Celinn hoarsely.
‘Yes,’ said Gwirith, scarcely knowing himself what he meant. ‘Open yourself so that the pain can flow out of you and leave you, else there will be no room for us to come together.’
‘But…how am I to…do this?’ asked Celinn faintly.
‘You must yield to me, Celinn. Yield to me now, and we will be able to love one another.’
‘Yield?’ whispered Celinn, white-faced. ‘I yielded to him, Gwirith. You know I cannot yield.’
‘This is a different yielding, Celinn,’ said Gwirith patiently. ‘It is a yielding of love, not of surrender. It is an opening, so that I may reach you, so that I may…come close to you.’
All at once Gwirith’s long composure broke and he too was weeping. He squeezed his eyes tightly closed to try to stop the tears, but they leaked out and rolled down his cheeks nevertheless. The more he tried to hold them back, the more they flowed, and his shoulders shook as great difficult sobs were torn out of him. Celinn pressed his head against Gwirith’s and stroked his hair, trying to dry his face, and their tears mingled as they clung together desperately.
‘Gwirith, my beloved, please do not weep any more,’ whispered Celinn at last, and he turned Gwirith’s face to his and kissed his mouth, tasting the salt of his tears on his lips. Gwirith melted against him, weak with exhaustion, and at that moment of Gwirith’s surrender, something broke in Celinn, and he opened himself. Gwirith’s whole body felt it, and he groaned deep in his throat and stretched out full length, pulling Celinn to lie beside him, and the heat which had burned in them the last weeks whenever they touched with lips or hands flowed now throughout their bodies, and in a moment both were hard, breathing fast, and touching skin so sensitive that the pleasure of it was almost too much to bear.
Gwirith pushed Celinn down hard to lie on his back then, and they gazed with eyes that seemed to see each other for the first time. A moment later their mouths met and they kissed as if they would take each other’s very breath from their bodies, then Gwirith tore his mouth away and, flinging one arm across Celinn’s hot body, he buried his face in the soft musky hair of Celinn’s groin, taking the hard shaft between his fingers and pushing it up to rest against his burning cheek.
‘Celinn, what heat is in you?’ he gasped.
‘The heat you arouse in me,’ said Celinn in a slurred, husky voice.
Gwirith groaned and, lifting his flushed face, took Celinn into his mouth, tasting the salt juices that flowed from him. Celinn whispered his name and seized hold of his hair, shuddering with pleasure. But when Gwirith began to caress the soft skin of the entrance to his body, Celinn arched his back with a high piercing cry, and began to pull away from him, his erection withering. Gwirith laid his hand flat across him protectively, no longer seeking to enter him.
‘Gwirith,’ whispered Celinn. ‘You must not stop. You must touch me…where…he…’
‘Heed my words, Gwirith!’ interrupted Celinn. ‘Let it be now, tonight, that I face this fear, all of it together. Otherwise this will be a door that will close in our faces every time.’
Gwirith nodded slowly. ‘If you are sure…’
‘I am sure.’
Gwirith sat up on his heels and gazed at his lover’s flushed face framed in damp tousled hair, and began to oil his hands again. Celinn watched him, fear flickering over his face like firelight, but Gwirith was ready now, and this time he summoned all the heat of his body to pool in his groin so that he grew hard again, and seeing the desire in his eyes, Celinn sighed out loud and forgot his apprehension.
Gwirith held Celinn’s gaze as he turned him to sit with his back resting against the tree, then knelt beside him, pulling him into the shelter of his arm.
‘Don’t turn away from me, Celinn, whatever happens,’ he said. ‘Keep looking at me; don’t close your eyes. I want you to know that I am the one who is touching you, and that I touch you with love.’
Celinn nodded, swallowing visibly and tilting his head up trustfully as Gwirith bent to kiss his mouth. The kiss was tender at first, but soon it became heated and fervent, and Gwirith’s hand slid down onto Celinn’s chest, fingers spread, tracing the shape of his ribs under the skin and travelling down to the soft flesh of his belly. Celinn tried to speak his pleasure and though his words were stopped by Gwirith’s mouth, the sound of it vibrated through them both. Gwirith’s hand was on Celinn’s shaft now, tangling in the pale gold hairs, anointing him with the sweet oil. Celinn’s head fell back against Gwirith’s arm and he closed his eyes, abandoning himself to the pleasure in his body, but Gwirith cried,
‘Look at me, Celinn!’ and his hand slid down between Celinn’s legs to the tight entrance to his body.
Celinn’s eyes were wide open now, locked on Gwirith’s, and his lips parted in a gasp as Gwirith’s oiled finger sought a way to enter him. His eyes started to become veiled and distant, but Gwirith called out to him and he came back to himself.
‘Beloved,’ said Gwirith tenderly, tightening his arm round Celinn’s shoulders, ‘Open to me. I will bring you pleasure and peace. Do not be afraid any more.’
Celinn said nothing, but he shifted his hips slightly and Gwirith slipped deeper inside him. Celinn’s eyes filled with tears and they spilt silently down his cheeks, but his eyes never left Gwirith’s.
‘Celinn, my darling,’ said Gwirith, deeply moved, ‘It is love that seeks to touch you deep inside. Open to me, and feel the love I am bringing you. I give you all the tenderness that is in me. Do not close yourself to me, my love.’ He bent down again and kissed him, and it seemed that the perfume of the white flowers pervaded the air all around them.
Gwirith raised his head and looked down into Celinn’s face, continuing to caress him, and as he watched the fear and torment slowly faded, and the dream of horror which had been unfolding before Celinn’s eyes passed.
Gradually Celinn’s tears stopped flowing and his body softened under Gwirith’s hands, and at last he opened fully to him, so that Gwirith found and stroked the deep nub of pleasure within. Celinn cried out his name, and Gwirith laid him down then and, fingers still deep inside him, he worked his cock with his mouth, his tongue tracing slick marble smoothness and veined ridges, his teeth catching the sensitive flesh and nipping it gently. Celinn was shuddering now and crying out incoherently and Gwirith’s senses were filled with him, his sweet potent scent, the heat of him, his skin sliding under Gwirith’s hands.
Then Celinn’s whole body stiffened and his hands came round Gwirith’s head, sliding through his hair before clutching it so tightly that for an instant Gwirith was dazzled by the pain of it. There was a moment when he was completely motionless, his back arched and his mouth open in a silent cry. Then he shuddered and cried out, ‘Gwirith, melethron nin, amin lava!’ and he came.
Gwirith tasted his strong essence and it was as if his mouth was filled with the salt tang of the sea. He let Celinn slide out of his mouth and reached down to put his hand on his own hard cock and at once he spilt himself, gasping and shuddering with the relief and pleasure of it. Even before he had finished, Celinn had pulled him down against him, seeking Gwirith’s mouth and tasting his own seed. Then they had to touch each other all over again, as if to reassure themselves of their own bodily life, their own nearness, their own belonging.
At last they lay exhausted together, Gwirith’s head on Celinn’s chest, tight in each other’s arms, too breathless to speak. Gwirith reached out and pulled his woollen cloak over them, and they gazed at each other, dizzy with love, scarcely knowing where one finished and the other began. Celinn’s lips parted and moved; at first no sound emerged, but then he said hoarsely,
‘I have yielded to you, Gwirith. I am yours.’
‘And I am yours,’ said Gwirith softly.
‘I offer myself to you,’ whispered Celinn, ‘to bind myself to you at midsummer, for this year and the next and all the years thereafter.’
‘I take you as my own,’ said Gwirith, with tears in his voice, ‘ to bind with you at midsummer, and offer myself to you, for this year… and the next…’ Here he had to stop to weep. ‘And…all the years thereafter.’
They kissed each other then, and their fingers twined together like the stems of the white flower that climbed the mallorn tree.
‘There, it is done,’ said Celinn drowsily, ‘meleth cuil nin,’ and he turned his face into Gwirith’s shoulder, and at once fell asleep.
Luinil sat just outside the circle of firelight as the moon set, glad of the darkness. He had wandered through the forest alone all night so far, not knowing why he felt no desire to respond to the many offers of pleasure that he had received. There had been no-one since Celinn last Midsummer, and though he spoke true when he said he desired him no longer, it seemed he was still too restless to look for love again. He sighed, resigning himself to a chaste night, and removed the garland of ivy and may blossom that adorned his brow.
‘There are still three hours till dawn,’ said a familiar voice behind him. ‘Would you remove your garland so early, Luinil? Someone may yet ask it from you.’
He looked up into Aiglin’s fair face, seeing the garland at a tipsy angle on his brow.
‘And you?’ said Luinil. ‘I thought all Lorien would have claimed yours by now.’
Aiglin sighed and sat down beside him, removing the garland and throwing it on the ground beside him before running his splayed fingers through his hair.
‘They must have been busy elsewhere. No matter, at least we still have each other as a last resort,’ he said lightly.
Astonished, Luinil stared at him openly. ‘But I was sure you were jesting,’ he said. ‘I have no doubt you have had several offers.’
‘And you have not?’ said Aiglin.
‘Yes, but…I…’ Luinil stammered and then fell abruptly silent. ‘I did not wish for any of them,’ he said at last.
‘Luinil, I…I am sorry that…well that is to say, I am glad also, but…if things could have been different…’
‘Aiglin, I am grateful for your kindness, but I no longer desire your brother; it is just that I did not wish to share this night with…a stranger,’ said Luinil, smiling a little. ‘It is enough for me to see Gwirith happy after so long.’
‘You are generous, Luinil,’ said Aiglin. He moved closer to him and leaned his head on Luinil’s shoulder, gazing up with eyes that sparkled with liveliness. ‘Is it possible you would be so generous with me?’ he said softly in a voice full of meaning. ‘I am no stranger.’
Luinil turned slowly and looked down at him. ‘Are you offering yourself to me, Aiglin?’
‘It is the festival. It is our duty to love on this night, in honour of all that grows and flourishes. You would not shirk your duty, would you, Luinil?’ Aiglin smiled at him roguishly, then turned his face and pressed a kiss on to the skin of Luinil’s shoulder.
Luinil sighed and laid his hand gently on Aiglin’s head. ‘Well, Aiglin,’ he said, ‘If you wish for some sport, then…you will have to catch me first!’
He leapt to his feet and ran, upsetting Aiglin on to the ground where he lay for a moment, rubbing his shoulder where it had made contact with the hard earth. Then he too was on his feet, running swiftly between the trees, trying to make up the few seconds’ start that Luinil had on him.
‘Luinil, you are unfair!’ he cried. ‘How can I find you now that the moon has set? At least give me a chance!’
Ahead of him he could hear the sound of nimble feet. He half-closed his eyes, the light being so dim that his ears were more help to him, and darted through the trees, using his hands to guide him.
‘Luinil, wait for me! If you make me run too far, I will be worn out, and you will regret it later.’
Luinil’s merry laughter sounded far ahead. Aiglin put on a burst of speed but just when he thought he had made up some ground, he found he could no longer hear any sound of feet or laughter. Breathing fast, he stopped where he was and listened, but the forest was completely silent.
‘Luinil, please, give it up now,’ he said irritably. ‘Show yourself!’
There was nearly a whole minute of silence, and then he was startled to feel something light and sweet-smelling begin to fall gently on to him from above.
‘What in…Luinil, is that you?’ he cried, opening his hands and looking at the pale petals of blossom that were spiralling down to rest on them. There was no answer, and at last Aiglin sighed and let the fragrant petals fall to the ground, resigning himself to a lonely festival night.
There was the sound of feet landing lightly on the ground behind him and a pair of hands reached out and covered his eyes.
‘Luinil!’ he gasped. ‘It is you?’
‘Who did you think it was?’ came a husky voice in his ear. ‘Lord Celeborn himself?’
Aiglin spun round to face him. ‘I can barely see you in this light,’ he said, putting out his hands and making contact with Luinil’s chest. Luinil let out a sudden little gust of breath.
‘Luinil, you must have dropped your shirt,’ said Aiglin, his fingers travelling down warm damp skin. ‘You will never find it in the dark… oh, and you must have torn your breeches climbing down from that tree...they must have slipped down, I can’t find…Luinil…you’re…naked!’
Luinil burst out laughing. ‘You’re not shy, are you, Aiglin?’ he said. ‘Don’t worry; the darkness will hide your blushes…Ai! What was that for?’
‘For your bad manners.’
‘What bad manners?’
‘Getting undressed before me. You have me at a disadvantage.’
‘That can soon be rectified,’ said Luinil, reaching for the laces of Aiglin’s breeches.
‘No, not yet,’ said Aiglin hoarsely, his hand covering Luinil’s. ‘The anticipation is half the pleasure.’
‘Is it so?’ whispered Luinil, his face very close to Aiglin’s. Aiglin closed his eyes and leaned forward to kiss him, but he laughed and stepped back out of reach, and when Aiglin closed his eyes he found himself alone again.
‘Luinil!’ he wailed. ‘Stop tormenting me!’
‘I am not tormenting you, I am increasing your pleasure!’ came Luinil’s light hearted voice. ‘If I give myself to you straight away, where is the anticipation?’
‘Very well,’ said Aiglin, taking out his travelling light. ‘Let us make this contest a little more even.’
‘No,’ breathed Luinil, right beside him again. ‘Do not kindle your light. I have a better idea.’
Aiglin stood completely still, arrested by Luinil’s voice.
‘If there was light,’ went on Luinil softly, ‘what would you see? A face you know, a familiar figure, no different from when you look on me at table or on duty. But in the darkness, what would you really feel? Who would be touching you? The Luinil you know? Or…another?’
‘Let me show you.’ Luinil laid his hand on Aiglin’s chest, over his heart. ‘What is here? A smooth curve, soft as satin, and as cool. And here?’ He caressed Aiglin gently through the fine cloth of his shirt. ‘Here there is something yielding…but if I touch it…so…and maybe a little more firmly…so…’
Aiglin gasped and gripped Luinil’s waist.
‘Then something soft becomes something a little less soft; it rises a little and…’
Aiglin groaned with pleasure.
‘Now it is a hard as a pebble, a tiny pebble under my fingers. And my other hand can feel another tiny pebble on this side of your heart.’ He massaged Aiglin’s nipples hard with his fingertips. Aiglin pulled him close so that their lips clashed together for a moment, but Luinil pulled away from him.
‘Do you need to see me to feel this pleasure? Do you even need to touch me?’ he whispered.
In a single movement Luinil pulled out the lace of Aiglin’s shirt and pushed it off his shoulders, then bent his head to his chest.
‘I wonder what pebbles taste like?’ he mused, then the tip of his tongue flickered out on to the hardened points on Aiglin’s chest.
Aiglin’s body arched towards him so that their hips collided, pressing their erections together, but when his hands slid down Luinil’s back and made to hold him, Luinil slipped suddenly away from him again.
‘Luinil!’ cried Aiglin. ‘You are wicked!’
‘Am I?’ said Luinil’s voice, from behind him. ‘No, do not turn, Aiglin. Just enjoy the anticipation.’
Aiglin let out his breath in a gasp of frustration, but it turned into a sigh of pleasure as Luinil’s fingertips began to trace the shape of his shoulders with the lightest of touches, grazing the smooth skin with his nails.
‘Feel the touch of my hands on you, Aiglin, and imagine what is yet to come. I can be gentle, but that is not all I have to give you. You must be patient.’
Luinil’s fingers pressed a little harder as they marked out the outline of the hard shoulder blades under Aiglin’s skin, and then walked slowly down the bumpy steps of his spine, his touch lightening until Aiglin could barely feel it.
‘Luinil…’ he wailed, then gasped as Luinil’s lips touched the hollow at the base of his back just above the swell of his buttocks.
‘However I love anticipation, you torment me…’ he said hoarsely, as Luinil’s tongue traced a path upwards along his left side. ‘Let me be close to you, Luinil!’ he said , half-pleading, but he felt rather than saw Luinil shake his head, and the cool touch of his mouth shook as he laughed gently.
Aiglin smiled in the darkness. ‘You are tickling me, Luinil. I will pay you back for this, do not fear.’
‘I do not fear you at all,’ said Luinil, placing tiny kisses along Aiglin’s waist before swirling his tongue round the shallow pool of his navel. Aiglin shuddered and seized his head but again Luinil pulled away.
‘No, Aiglin, that is not allowed,’ he said, playfully. ‘Be patient.’
Aiglin stared at him, breathing hard. ‘My patience is fast draining away,’ he said. ‘Make haste, for my pleasure is on the edge of pain.’
‘Then let me increase your pleasure, for I would not make you suffer,’ said Luinil, and Aiglin heard the smile in his voice. Luinil’s fingers were on the laces of Aiglin’s breeches and a moment later the soft cloth slid down his hips and puddled on the ground at his feet. Aiglin’s erection sprang free and he staggered back a pace as the cool night air touched his nakedness.
‘Luinil? Where are you?’ he said into the silence, turning to look all around him.
‘Aiglin,’ whispered Luinil from a little way behind him. ‘I am here.’ Aiglin turned sharply, reaching out, but Luinil said,
‘Let me finish the game. Do not try to touch me, but only feel my touch on your body. Are you willing?’
Aiglin was shuddering now, tense and chill. He felt disorientated and uncertain, longing to feel Luinil’s body next to his. But alongside these feelings he was aware of a high tingling excitement, as his senses were sharpened by the very deprivation he was experiencing. So he nodded several times, then realised Luinil could not see him.
‘I am willing,’ he said in a low, gravelly voice, quite unlike his own.
At once Luinil’s mouth was on his, kissing him fiercely. Aiglin’s hands reached out instinctively to him, but he arrested the movement and stood still. Luinil’s mouth tasted clean and sharp and fresh, as if he had been chewing a leaf of mint. Aiglin leaned towards him, intoxicated by the contrast of heat and coolness, and when Luinil made a sound of pleasure in his throat Aiglin felt it vibrate through his own lips and resonate gently through the bones of his cheeks and jaw. At first his body felt excluded, and he struggled to keep from pressing himself against Luinil. But the kiss was long and fervent, and after a minute or two the feeling passed, and he found his whole attention concentrated on the small intense point of contact between himself and Luinil, and every inch of his skin waiting in agonised pleasure to know where the next touch would be.
He found out soon enough. Slowly Luinil drew his mouth away from Aiglin’s, and after receiving a parting caress from the tip of Luinil’s tongue, Aiglin endured several moments of trembling anticipation. Then the grass rustled at his feet, and he felt Luinil’s cheek against the back of his hand, and then Luinil took the tip of his little finger into his mouth and suckled it gently. The pleasure was incredible and Aiglin thought he would lose himself at once, but Luinil seemed to sense this, and laid the tips of two fingers on his thigh, grounding and securing him. His whole body was flooded by the sensation at the very tip of his finger, and when Luinil took a second finger into his mouth and then a third, Aiglin cried out hoarsely, his hips jerking forward.
Luinil seemed to take this as a sign, and he let Aiglin’s fingers slide out from between his lips. Again several moments passed without any contact, then he heard the sound of Luinil’s feet beside him, and the tip of his erection brushed Aiglin’s hip and he walked round to stand in front of him again.
‘Are you enjoying the anticipation, Aiglin?’ he said.
‘By Elbereth, it is like heaven,’ gasped Aiglin, and he watched Luinil’s shadowy form move to kneel between his feet.
‘If that is heaven, then you will have no words left for this,’ said Luinil, laughing, and he reached out with the tip of his tongue and touched the head of Aiglin’s cock, tasting the sweet juice that oozed from it and exploring the tiny hole right in the centre.
Aiglin groaned and rocked forward, pressing against Luinil’s hot mouth, but Luinil tightened his lips, refusing him entrance.
‘You agreed you would not touch me,’ he said. Aiglin nodded, his hips jerking in rhythm with his head. Luinil settled down again, exploring the wet head of Aiglin’s cock before running his tongue up and down along its smooth length and touching the folded skin where the balls hung heavily at its root. Aiglin was groaning all the time, his hips twitching rhythmically.
‘Luinil, I cannot wait much longer…’ he gasped at last, and against his will his hand came down for a second on Luinil’s bowed head.
‘Very well,’ said Luinil, and Aiglin heard him rise to his feet and walk away.
‘Luinil!’ he cried, but in an instant Luinil was back at his side, and he placed his fingertips on Aiglin’s hips and turned him round.
‘Put your hands on the tree,’ he said softly, and Aiglin leaned forward and supported himself as Luinil had asked him. He heard Luinil moving behind him, then heard his soft groan and felt the tip of Luinil’s cock resting lightly on the entrance to his body.
‘Is this what you would like?’ said Luinil gently. ‘I have prepared myself.’
Aiglin smelt the tang of sweet oil on Luinil’s body. He sighed deeply and in answer tilted his back so that Luinil could reach him more easily. The night breeze swirled round them, kindling them further with its touch. Luinil rested his hands lightly on Aiglin’s waist, then angled his hips and thrust forward. Aiglin groaned deeply as he felt himself pierced by him.
‘I have been gentle…’ gasped Luinil, at once beginning to move rhythmically against him. ‘I have made you wait for me…but now the anticipation is over, and…you will have your pleasure.’
His hands tightened on Aiglin’s waist and he bent over and kissed his back, nipping the flesh of his shoulders as he began to thrust slow and hard into his hot tight body. Aiglin cried out in mixed pleasure and pain, bracing himself against Luinil to increase the hard contact between them. They shuddered together, quickly moving closer to the edge, and then Aiglin put his hand down and massaged his cock, feeling the juice flowing from the head and spreading it languorously from tip to root and back again.
The pleasure of it, coupled with the sensation of Luinil moving deeply inside him was so intense that he felt himself melting into it, and at that same moment Luinil also seemed to lose all restraint and bit Aiglin’s shoulder hard as he began to buck against him, gasping in time with each thrust.
Aiglin lost himself then, and his seed burst out of him on to the ground and mixed with the growing things of the forest. Luinil arched his back and for a moment his whole body tightened, then he sighed deeply and spent himself, and Aiglin felt the hot shudder of his seed inside his body. Luinil fell forward against him, and their slick bodies sealed themselves together, skin on skin.
After a while, Aiglin’s legs were suddenly too weak to carry him and he fell gently to his knees, rolling on to his side. Luinil sank down with him as if they were one body, and they lay joined for a long time, their bodies curved against each other. At last Aiglin moved away from Luinil and turning to face him pulled him into his arms. It must be nearly dawn, because he could see Luinil’s face as he lay against him, completely limp, his eyes half closed.
‘Do what you want with me, for I can barely move,’ he mumbled. ‘You have exhausted me.’
‘I have exhausted you? Truly you are a most unusual lover,’ said Aiglin softly.
‘I was…only doing my duty,’ said Luinil, smiling lopsidedly at him.
‘Then I hope you will feel dutiful again soon,’ said Aiglin, kissing him gently.
‘Not today; you are too demanding, Aiglin,’ he murmured.
‘Luinil,’ said Aiglin softly. Something in his voice made Luinil open his eyes and look up at him, suddenly alert.
‘Did you…were you reminded…was I…’ stammered Aiglin awkwardly.
Luinil reached up and pushed a strand of short blond hair back from Aiglin’s face.
‘Did I think about Celinn, do you mean?’ Aiglin nodded mutely.
‘Not for a second,’ whispered Luinil. ‘Why should I, when my senses were filled with you, Aiglin?’
Aiglin’s face broke into a slow smile.
‘Truly?’ he said.
‘Truly. In any case, Celinn would never let me…do what we did together. Now let me rest,’ said Luinil, turning his head into Aiglin’s shoulder.
‘Luinil, you cannot sleep now, it is nearly dawn.’
‘What of it?’
‘We must go to the fire, to see if anyone will choose to leap it this year.’
‘Ah, they can do it without me there,’ said Luinil, closing his eyes again.
Aiglin shook his shoulder. ‘Luinil, will sleep afterwards. You can come to my talan with me if you want.’
‘What will Celinn say to that, then?’
Aiglin watched him in silence. Luinil frowned at him, then all at once his face cleared.
‘Gwirith! And Celinn! He will have… we must go and see if…well, hurry up, Aiglin, what are you waiting for?’
‘What am I waiting for?’ said Aiglin, as Luinil struggled to his feet in the strengthening light.
‘By Elbereth, where are my clothes? If you did not have such unusual desires, I would not have had to hide them as I did.’
‘I have unusual desires?’ cried Aiglin.
‘Do you have to repeat everything I say? Ah, here they are,’ said Luinil, pulling his clothes out from a cleft in the bole of a nearby tree and beginning to dress. ‘Well? Are you coming or not?’
Gwirith held Celinn in his arms and looked down on his sleeping face in the early light of dawn. A long lock of blond hair had flopped down over one eye, and the other was deep in shadow, but he could see the tender curve of his mouth and the beautiful line of his jaw and cheekbone. Twice before now he had held him through the night and watched his features grow out of the darkness, but it broke his heart to remember the other dawns, while today he was filled with a joy he had forgotten he could feel, a solid deep kind of joy, the kind that went with a love that has grown slowly and strongly without grasping or forcing, but naturally like a tree rooted in the earth.
He wanted to lean down and kiss Celinn’s lips, but he was loathe to wake him a moment before he needed to. A momentary pang of fear passed through him: had he imagined the words of binding, conjured them up in his mind because he desired so much to hear them? No, they had been real. When Celinn woke, they would go and declare their promising, and they would make the long preparation to bind at Midsummer, half a hundred days away.
Gwirith sighed and moved a little, settling Celinn a little more comfortably within his arm. He looked away into the forest, his eyes blurring a little with tiredness, for he had not slept at all, Celinn’s nearness being too new and precious to waste it with sleeping. At last he sighed and turned back, to find himself looking straight into Celinn’s sea green eyes.
‘Beloved, did I wake you?’ said Gwirith gently.
Celinn smiled at him. ‘I dreamt of you,’ he said softly. ‘And I woke so that I could look at your face.’
He pushed himself up onto his elbow, and their lips met in a lingering kiss. Gwirith’s cloak slid off them and their nakedness inflamed them at once to passion, but after a minute or two, Celinn drew his mouth away.
‘We must go to the fire…to make our promising,’ he said, breathless.
‘Do you still wish it?’ said Gwirith, suddenly full of doubt.
Celinn pulled him down and kissed him again, and when their lips parted, the doubt was gone from Gwirith’s face.
They dressed quickly and in silence and, arms entwined around shoulder and waist, they began to walk towards the fire. Somewhat weakened by the exertions of the night, they wove their way through the trees, stumbling occasionally, half dreaming in this unlooked-for dawn.
At last they emerged into the clearing where the fire had blazed from dusk the day before, and say the pile of soft grey ash and smouldering sticks to which it had been reduced. Two or three others stood nearby and they greeted each other solemnly, then Celinn and Gwirith knelt down and held their hands near to the warmth of the fire’s last heart, seeing the shimmer of heat rising before their eyes so that they looked at the forest before them as through a trembling veil.
Gradually others trailed into the clearing in pairs or groups, walking slowly in the dreaming light of dawn. Last to arrive were Celeborn and Galadriel, her long hair gently disordered and woven with grasses and flowers, and his eyes sparkling bright in his radiant face. The elves stood in a circle around the last embers of the May fire, close and soft and open, and then Celeborn said, as was the custom,
‘Who chooses to leap the fire on this May morning, to promise themselves to bind on Midsummer Day?’
At once a pair came forward, nis and ner, and having spoken their promise, leapt the fire nimbly, to a chorus of congratulation, then two more couples came and did the same. Gwirith stood suddenly rigid with fear, not daring to look at Celinn, but Celinn leaned close and said softly,
‘Now it is our turn, beloved,’ and led him out of the circle, holding his hand tightly. Gwirith followed him hesitantly, still disbelieving, but Celinn was already speaking the words of the promise.
‘This May morning, I choose Gwirith as my bound lover, offering myself to him for this year and the next and all the years thereafter, if he will it.’
Gwirith stared at him for a long time, unable to speak, but Celinn’s smile did not falter.
‘I am not dreaming?’ whispered Gwirith, oblivious of all those watching them.
‘No, beloved, you are not dreaming,’ said Celinn.
‘Then…I take you as my own,’ said Gwirith, in a strange husky voice quite unlike his own, ‘to bind with you at midsummer, and offer myself to you, for this year… and the next…and…all the years thereafter.’
There was a sudden loud burst of cheering and congratulations, and Gwirith jumped and looked around him, startled. Then Celinn was pulling him towards the fire, and they were running together, and then they were in the air, over the fire. Gwirith felt its warm breath as they leapt across it, and a sudden smarting pain as the sole of his bare foot touched a hot ember for a moment as they landed on the other side. Then Celinn had his arms round him and was kissing him in front of everyone, and he was blushing and laughing and shaking all at the same time.
They were surrounded by well-wishers, including the Lord and Lady who embraced them both tenderly. The Lady’s eyes were suspiciously bright as she leaned close and spoke to each of them in turn.
‘Your long waiting has its reward,’ she said softly to Gwirith, and then she touched the edge of Celinn’s hair just where it emerged from beneath his hood and said in his ear, ‘At last you have found your lover, Celinn, where you least expected to. I wish you both the delight of your joining.’
Celinn smiled at her, all at once remembering her words at his braiding. Then a voice was heard from behind them, shouting Celinn’s name. They all turned to see Aiglin, shirtless and holding his unlaced breeches together with his hands, running into the clearing.
‘Celinn! You didn’t wait for me! Why didn’t you wait?’
‘I didn’t know you were coming, brother,’ said Celinn, glancing down at what was being revealed by Aiglin’s state of undress. Following his eye, Aiglin glanced down and tucked himself away in a businesslike unembarrassed way, then laced up his breeches firmly.
‘You gave away your garland as you hoped, then, Aiglin?’ said Celinn.
‘No, I lost it!’ cried Aiglin, looking around and seeing it next to Luinil’s on the ground nearby. ‘But where is yours? And why are you dressed as if you were about to go harvesting in the fields? Have you no sense of occasion?’
Celinn blushed a little, but before he could speak, Aiglin had snatched up both garlands and was holding them out to Celinn and Gwirith.
‘Let these be my gift to you,’ he said, since I was not here to see you leap.’
‘Should not your partner bestow his by himself?’ said Gwirith.
‘Oh, he will not mind. He will want to give you a present, Gwirith, I am sure.’
‘Will he?’ said Gwirith.
‘Yes, I will,’ said Luinil, standing at Aiglin’s shoulder. Both Celinn and Gwirith stared at him.
‘You were…Aiglin’s partner?’ said Gwirith.
‘I was,’ said Luinil, ‘after he persuaded me that it was my duty to join with him in honour of all that grows and flourishes.’
‘And he certainly grew and flourished,’ said Aiglin, hoarsely, in a voice of remembered pleasure.
‘Aiglin!’ chided Luinil.
‘Well, you did!’ said Aiglin. ‘There is no shame in it, is there?’
‘I did not know that you were…’ said Celinn, suddenly noticing the mottled purple bruise just visible on the top of Aiglin’s shoulder.
‘Nor did we,’ said Aiglin. ‘But let me tell you, Celinn, if Gwirith has half the skills of his brother, you will never regret your binding.’
‘Aiglin!’ cried Celinn, but Aiglin kissed him hard on the mouth, then turned and did the same to Gwirith.
‘I wish you both joy of the body and of the heart, brother and brother-to-be,’ he said, laughing, and placed his garland round Celinn’s shoulders.
Then Luinil came closer and kissed his brother, taking him in his arms for a long moment and speaking quietly so that only he could hear. Gwirith held on to him tightly, shaking his head, and then stooping down so that Luinil could drape his garland round him. At last they moved apart, and Luinil turned shyly to Celinn.
‘So we will be brothers, Celinn,’ he said softly. Celinn smiled at him, then reached out and briefly caressed his cheek.
‘We will be brothers,’ he repeated. ‘I hope that will make you happy.’
Luinil glanced back at Aiglin for a moment. ‘It will make me happy,’ he said. He took Celinn’s hand, then reached out for Gwirith’s.
‘I wish you both joy of one another, heart and body,’ he said quietly, ‘my dearest brothers.’
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