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Ai Elbereth: 1. Ai Elbereth
Ecthelion and Glorfindel were arguing.
"It is blasphemy!" said Ecthelion.
"Perhaps," said Glorfindel. "But, if so, you yourself are a habitual blasphemer. When we learned that the new sword consignment was a dozen short, for example, I distinctly heard you say--"
"I may occasionally invoke the names of the Valar, yes, but never under such impious circumstances!"
"Well, neither do I, usually. It is just that I saw stars, and—"
"Be that as it may..." Ecthelion shut his eyes, fighting down the surge of self-satisfaction Glorfindel's words provoked. "We should not be trying to attract the attention of the Valar. Quite the opposite. Even you must see that."
"Even I, hmm? I suppose you are right. So, I solemnly promise that I will try to refrain from saying 'Ai, Elbereth' under circumstances that may be construed as impious, such as, for example--"
"And please stop talking about it."
"Sorry. I keep forgetting that Elbereth is probably listening to us right now. Looking at us, too, I expect." Glorfindel pushed a strand of hair behind one ear and glanced around. "In that case, she must be wondering why we are naked. We might want to think up a pretext... something about trying on each other's clothes, perhaps? Speaking of which--is that my shirt hanging off the candelabra?"
"No, that is mine. If you remember, I... never mind," said Ecthelion. "I think yours is under that chair."
Ecthelion made a point of not watching Glorfindel get dressed. Instead, he pulled on a robe and set about putting the room in order. Although the silence was a waste of hard-won private time, he could think of nothing conciliatory to say. He knew he was right.
He was retrieving his shirt when Glorfindel appeared beside him, neat and composed once more.
"Ecthelion." Glorfindel's hand hovered for a bit before settling on a shoulder squeeze. "Sorry about all the sarcasm. I am feeling frustrated. On several levels. So, what do we do now? Should I stay?" He wanted to leave. His glance towards the door made it plain.
"I will see you after I return from the Great Gate," said Ecthelion quietly. Eight weeks from now; eight weeks of regretting such a parting. But Glorfindel wanted to leave. Ecthelion looked away, weighing pride against need.
"I cannot send you away like this," he said to the candelabra.
"Then do not," Glorfindel replied with unexpected force, his hold on Ecthelion's shoulder tightening. "Look, Ecthelion, I am tired of this. I am tired of talking you out of your doubts." He shifted in place, obviously uncomfortable with expressing--or even feeling--grievance. Ecthelion liked him all the more for it, and longed to ease his discomfort.
"That is understandable," he said. "You have done a great deal of talking to get us to this point, and I wish that... But if you are tired of all this--of me--then you should feel free to tell me so. Or to take a break."
"To walk out of here, you mean? The problem is that I can see what will happen then: I will leave feeling annoyed, miss you when you go to the Gate, grow contrite by the time you return, and fall back into the same pattern, which will get more irritating each time, until... Oh, I do not know." Glorfindel released Ecthelion's shoulder and folded his arms. "I am not sure why I am even telling you this; it sounds so appallingly dramatic."
"Perhaps you want me to take my turn at talking you out of doubts?"
"Do you feel up to it, then?"
"Let me try. You know, this is not really a pattern... No, hear me out. Look, we have just attempted a new unnatural act. You know such things bother me a great deal, but we are unlikely to encounter them all that often. Unless, of course, you believe that there is a limitless supply of unnatural acts to discover."
This feeble attempt at humour seemed to work; Glorfindel smiled, if a little forcedly. "Well, I will do my best, but no promises. However..." His face took on a familiar expression: the 'I Have Found an Irrefutable Argument' look. "I wanted to point out that an act that feels... well, good beyond the simple pleasure of sensual touch... cannot be entirely unnatural. If Eru Ilúvatar gave our bodies the capacity to experience physical pleasure unrelated to the begetting of children, then surely this is a natural part of the world's song. And please do not say that it must be one of Morgoth's corrupt variations."
"I was not going to." The point had occurred to Ecthelion, but this was not the time to make it. "I was thinking about the irony of calling such acts a part of Eru's song when you yourself learnt about them from bawdy ditties written by malicious bards to discredit their enemies."
"That is true, yes, but is it relevant? Many of those songs mention women, as well."
"They also mention Orcs and sheep. You see, the point they are making is that giving in to the needs of the body too freely is laughable, and therefore wrong."
Glorfindel ran a hand through his hair. "I know you consider bad music morally suspect, but surely it is not something to base an ethical decision on. And I hope you are not implying that the needs of your body include Orcs and sheep, not to mention women. Quite apart from anything else, I doubt I would enjoy dressing up as a sheep."
"Now that is one doubt I refuse to talk you out of."
The smiles they exchanged then were natural; the evening had been saved. They stepped closer and embraced lightly, like brothers.
"Eight weeks, then," said Glorfindel.
"Yes. Thank you for being so understanding." Ecthelion did feel grateful, profoundly so. Grateful, and determined not to fall into the pattern Glorfindel feared.
Well, eight weeks would give him plenty of time to think about the situation.
Glorfindel was up on the city wall, talking to some of the men on duty, when the returning guards appeared on the Gate road. In the morning sun, they glittered like metal filings, tiny and indistinguishable. Glorfindel's eyes were drawn to the figure at their head. So, Ecthelion would be back in the city by evening. He would be busy, of course, but Glorfindel resolved to seek him out the following morning. With luck, they might arrange to meet soon after.
In an attempt to suppress his growing impatience, Glorfindel devoted his day to all the small administrative tasks he had been ignoring. This proved just as mind-numbing and time-consuming as expected. It was well past sunset by the time he returned home to find his lamps lit, some of his clutter cleared--and Ecthelion sitting at his table, busily writing.
Glorfindel blinked a few times. Reunions were often disorienting. He was used to finding the real Ecthelion subtly different from the images his mind constructed when they were apart--for instance, the imaginary Ecthelion tended to wear less clothing. Still, this time the confusion was particularly powerful. Sneaking into Glorfindel's rooms uninvited and without a plausible excuse seemed such a risky and un-Ecthelion-like activity. But the strangeness faded when Ecthelion turned towards the door, dark hair sliding across one shoulder.
"Ah, you are back," he said.
"Isn't that my line?" Glorfindel crossed the room, placed a hand on the back of the chair, and glanced down at the documents spread out on the table. Official paperwork--the very thing he himself had just been suffering through. He wanted to make a joke about this, but one of the piles of paper Ecthelion had moved aside reminded him why familiarity still felt somewhat out of place.
"I got your letter," he said instead. "I believe I still have it around here somewhere. Ah, yes." He picked up the sheet and shook it out, one-handed. "'Glorfindel, I have enclosed the reports on the new automatic crossbow. The weather continues fair. Respectfully, Ecthelion.' I have to admit, I am glad you respect me still, after all the unnatural acts."
"Yes, I remember writing that." Ecthelion frowned. "It took several attempts. I had done some thinking, and I wanted to tell you about it, but, well, not in a letter some captain of yours might read. I did not imagine that-- Did my brevity truly bother you?"
"What truly bothered me was Egalmoth asking me for my opinion of Elemmakil's latest adventure. I felt embarrassed to find that he knew more about your life at the Gate than I."
"Sorry. The next time one of my men mistakes his patrol leader for a bear, I will make sure that you are the first to know." Ecthelion reached up to touch Glorfindel's arm at the elbow. "Are we arguing still? I did not think so, but I will understand if--"
"No, it is all right." Glorfindel responded to the contact by moving his hand onto Ecthelion's shoulder. "I did miss your usual letters, but having you here in person is compensation enough."
Ecthelion looked up. "I am glad to hear that, because I have been thinking about our last meeting. And, well." As his fingers slid higher, he averted his eyes. "I want us to make another attempt. Only this time the other way round."
He sounded serious--and if he had given the matter so much thought, he probably was. Glorfindel felt thrilled, but skeptical, since the suggestion did not seem entirely feasible. Ecthelion's shoulder was hard, tense.
"I really appreciate the gesture," said Glorfindel, "but--"
"It is not a 'gesture.' It is a proposition. A considered and sincere one." Ecthelion stood up. "I am curious. You said I had to try it--I remember that clearly. Anyway, this might allow me to demonstrate that at least one of us has enough self-control to avoid blasphemy."
Their eyes were level now; Ecthelion's held a challenge. Confronted in this way, Glorfindel could not refuse. "If you are sure," he said.
They moved towards each other, reaching forward. It was not a graceful motion: both were hesitant, and the chair, forgotten in their preoccupation, seemed to insinuate itself between them with hard-cornered spite. They exchanged half-smiles as they pushed it aside. To their relief, much of the awkwardness seemed to go with it. The rest disappeared as they leaned into one another, kissing deeply.
Glorfindel's hands sought out favourite resting-points--the nape of Ecthelion's neck, the small of his back--as he tried to press as much of their bodies together as possible in a standing embrace. It never felt like enough, but the attempt was worthwhile, since each small adjustment brought a burst of sensation: a hand sliding down his hip, a shift in the warm pressure against his chest, a brush of friction against his groin. He hummed with pleasure, and felt rather than heard Ecthelion's answering moan. The muffled vibration reminded him that everything would feel better, sharper, without the intervening layers of fabric. He let one arm begin tugging at clothing while the other tried to keep Ecthelion in place. But Ecthelion stepped back anyway, so that cold air filled the gap between them.
"The bed, I think," said Ecthelion.
He touched Glorfindel's shoulder, then led the way to the other room, stopping at one of the weapon stands to pick up a jar of grease. This practicality seemed to sober him: when he sat down on the bed he looked grimly resolute, as if undressing was a chore. He approached the task methodically, folding his tunic and shirt before placing them carefully on the floor beside his feet.
Glorfindel suppressed a smile. He could not tell whether the amusement was appropriate, or due to his own lightheaded nervousness. What was certainly appropriate was the spine-tingling pleasure he got from watching the lines of Ecthelion's back shift as he bent forward, this time to remove his boots, then craned his neck upwards to meet Glorfindel's eyes.
"What about you?" Ecthelion asked. "Were you planning to keep your clothes on? No, do not tell me." He sat up. "I know--you are feeling ashamed because, in my absence, you have neglected the exercise yard to the point where your body has atrophied completely."
Peeling off his own clothes was the work of a moment. Then Glorfindel slid onto the bed and demonstrated his unatrophied condition by dragging Ecthelion down beside him, pulling them together in another familiar way: the horizontal embrace, with its dynamic give and take and vague evocation of honourable combat. Or, rather, dishonourable combat. Glorfindel lost his initial advantage when Ecthelion feinted, drawing one arm down as if to brace himself for an attack and then reaching below the belt instead. But Glorfindel could not resent this. The main thing was that everything was all right again. It seemed that discord could exist only in the air; that, when no space separated them, they understood each other completely. There was no other explanation for the way Ecthelion took him in hand just as friction ceased to be enough. Glorfindel arched into the touch and tried to reciprocate--but Ecthelion moved away again.
"No, wait," said Ecthelion before twisting towards the bedside chest where he had placed the grease-jar.
With a little effort, Glorfindel remembered what they had intended. Now that things were going so well it seemed unnecessary, and likely to cause complications. He reached forward, attempting to pull them close once more, and ended up pressed against Ecthelion's back, aligned just right to slide in between his thighs. Or perhaps even deeper--would that work? Glorfindel tightened his hold. He had wanted this even before he had deciphered the songs--had wanted to claim any part of Ecthelion that could be claimed. His commitment to the plan renewed, he thanked Elbereth for her part in bringing it about, and kissed Ecthelion's neck encouragingly.
Ecthelion responded by turning to face him. They worked together then, drawing on the experience of their previous encounter to rearrange themselves until Ecthelion lay on his back and Glorfindel knelt between his legs. Some of the awkwardness returned as they puzzled out the best position for various limbs, but it was a different sort of awkwardness, more companionable and far less grim; at least, so it seemed to Glorfindel when Ecthelion reached up to coat him with grease and guide him into position. Glorfindel took a deep breath, and pushed forward.
For a moment, he found it hard to focus on anything but the sensation, a pleasure more all-encompassing than he had expected. He knew it would feel even better when he moved again, but some part of his overwhelmed mind made him hold still and concentrate on Ecthelion's braids, which lay in disorder upon the pillow.
"Glorfindel." Ecthelion's voice was muted but even. "It is all right. I knew it would be."
"Mmm?" was all Glorfindel could manage.
"Yes. I have been practicing."
"Practicing?" Glorfindel's capacity for speech returned. "Alone? Out at the Gate?"
Imagining that, Glorfindel could not help moving, just a little. Ecthelion inhaled sharply, but he looked surprised, not pained, so Glorfindel kept going, thrusting slowly and trying not to think about what he did or how it felt. After a few moments, a hand on his hip urged him to alter his course; he sat back, to make it easier. He knew he had it right when the hand gripped tighter and Ecthelion's breathing grew heavier yet more controlled, the way it did when he held back louder sounds.
They began to move together, settling into a rhythm. Their eyes met; for a few moments, they looked at each other in wonder. Then Glorfindel let his eyes drift lower, to where their bodies were joined, and felt his heart-rate accelerate. It was too much, that Ecthelion wanted him to do this, that it brought pleasure to them both. In equal measure? He wanted to be sure. Reaching forward, he wrapped one hand around Ecthelion's member.
"No," said Ecthelion. "No, I... Ah. Ah, Eru!" He fell into incoherence as his body spasmed.
Watching him--feeling him--Glorfindel began to thrust faster, as if to catch up with his drumming heart. And then it seemed he had: for a moment he felt quite still and detached, poised above Ecthelion, who for once looked at ease, as if he knew he belonged here. Ah Eru indeed, thought Glorfindel with strange clarity. I will come inside him.
And he did. The pulse of it pulled him back into his body, rocking and confusing him until he was left with the illusion that he had spilled from his very heart.
The pride he felt at managing to slide off to one side before collapsing was surely perfectly justified.
They lay there facing each other for a little while. Ecthelion's mind was pleasantly blank. It was such a relief not to think, to simply exist and luxuriate in the heavy, relaxed feeling in his limbs. His reverie broke only when Glorfindel waved a hand before his eyes.
Ecthelion caught it in his own. "I'm not asleep."
"Good. Then you can appreciate the self-restraint I am exercising as I nobly refrain from commenting on anything."
"From commenting on what? The fact that I did not invoke any of the Valar?"
"Yes, I was very impressed. You went straight over their heads. Or do you not remember?"
"I remember." Ecthelion spent a moment trying to locate the usual regret. Its pull had been fading lately, abandoning him for hours--or even days--at a time; today, it did not seem to be there at all. True, he had just demonstrated that he could match Glorfindel perversion for perversion, but in doing so he had stepped off the easy path, the one where Glorfindel took most of the initiative and hence the bulk of the guilt, so there was virtue mixed in with the vice. Perhaps this explained why he felt so happy.
"Yes, I remember everything. For example..." Ecthelion sat up higher. "I remember you referring to my crossbow report. So, what did you think?"
Glorfindel sent him a look as piercing and lethal as a crossbow bolt. "I know we need an excuse for your visit, but do we really have to work on it right now? I would much rather discuss all the things you left out of your letter."
"What, like Elemmakil? Or like the ridiculous way I counted the days until my return to the city?" Ecthelion reached down to run a hand through Glorfindel’s hair, smoothing out the tangles.
"No, more like this ‘practicing’ you mentioned."
"Ai, Elbereth," said Ecthelion.
0) Constructive criticism is always welcome. As is praise, randomness, and destructive criticism.
1) I do know that "seeing stars" is a very cliché way of describing certain sexual sensations, but I was rather amused by the way it fitted in with the Elbereth theme.
3) The journey from the gates to the city took about a day, at least according to "Of the Coming of Tuor to Gondolin" in "The Lost Tales."
4) Much thanks to Aayesha, Born on Sofa, and Eveiya for the beta. And to Maggie for other betas and spider smut.
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