1. The Heat of Trees
Her dance, it seemed, was practice; she stepped in a pattern of lyric movement, arms and feet consciously yet naturally placed within turns and lines, and then she stopped. She stood still a moment to run her white hands over her orange gown and smooth the fabric into a more graceful shape on her body. Then she stepped again, replaying the same dance on the grass for a few ghostly minutes until the practice again came to an end. She smoothed her hair, and passed delicate fingers over her flushed cheek, and so began again.
Some trees stood far from each other, and some were close set, but they never barred her way as she whirled and coursed. He thought, as he watched, that the trees would surely move from her path if ever she chanced to come too close; her dance would command them, or she would command them. Or they would perhaps command her, and so guide her through their maze. They must have such an understanding, he thought, she and the trees, to dance together so flawlessly. She and the sun, too, for light fell over her in waves like water and drenched her hair, her skin, her clothing, so that she shone, star-like, as she danced with the light.
She stopped, and started anew. The heat of her reflecting light, or else the heat of trees, came to his face even though he stood far above amid stone and statue. He was on this terrace when he had first seen her dancing in the lower great garden, and there he yet stood, and would stand, he was sure, until her dance ceased and she passed out of sight. He would stand for hours, or days, or years, or until the end of Arda, if she danced there with the trees.
She stopped, and did not start anew. A singe of dread passed over him. His hand curled around the slim stone pillar at his side. With his fierce eyes and clenched jaw he soundlessly begged her to dance again, but still she stood motionless, filling his mind with the fear of her leaving, driving him to curse time for being so torturous and quick. He hissed aloud and leaned as far as he dared over the terrace railing, as if to conjure new movement in her through this movement of his.
If he had been willing her to dance again, his wishes were lost. But if he had wanted only movement, then her next actions pleased him better than any. Carefully, she lifted the silver circlet from her forehead and placed it on the grass at her bare feet. Her hands then set to her shining hair, which was bound in one thick plait with bands of silver. She removed all decoration and every tie and pin until the strands fell free down the length of her back to her waist, and still longer. She understood the wind too, he saw; it had no desire to strike up and whip and tangle that star-bright hair. She lived with the trees, and the light, and the wind, and all loved her for it.
The ornaments of her hair were set alongside her circlet on the grass in a careful arrangement, so that they would not be lost. When this was done, she stood, turning her face up to the midday sun, smiling as it cast her in approving, adoring light. Her hands rested first on her cheeks and then on her neck, then they slowly slipped to her chest where her gown was fastened with a stern row of pearl buttons. These she undid, one by one, and his breath stuck thick in his throat as he watched. She must believe that nobody is watching, he thought; she must believe that nobody would dare. The heat of shame swept over his skin.
Her gown fell in a circle around her feet, and she stood clothed only in a thin white shift. Then the sun shone more gladly upon her, drowning her with soft light and making her a silhouette against the trees. He could see the perfect shape of her body, opaque through the translucence of fine linen. She lifted her arms to the sun, either in reverence or kinship, he knew not which, and the shape of her breast against the light showed clear. And even as his heart turned mad and his legs weak, he could not force himself to leave her to salvage the remnant of her deserved mystery. So he watched still, and his thoughts became tangled in lust.
Soon she started to dance again, though this dance was new, rapid and staccato. It was not practice for court, but something wilder. Improvised, he knew, since he watched closely and her movements were never repeated except in halves and inexact references. Her arms moved more freely than before, and she tilted her head at a less precise angle. Even her hands changed their way from rigid posing to liquid twists. But the sweet grace of her steps was no less striking. Indeed he found the new dance more beautiful, flowing entirely from her own doing, and so marked with ambient sensuality. She spun faster, and faster, weaving between the trees with such careless perfection that he could not help but forget to breathe. And as she turned, the shift climbed higher, until he saw her pale thighs, soft in the light, bare as she danced.
He squeezed the stone under his hands as the heat of trees came into his eyes and burned with the tracing of her image. It was a fair drop, he saw, from the terrace to the garden below, but he could make it if he dared. He could jump from the cold stones to the warm trees, and be at her side in seconds. What he would do then, he was uncertain; if he could trust his voice, he would speak to her and confess. Or he might fail at civil speech and, forgetting propriety, allow his body to convey to hers, beyond all crudeness of words, his desires.
He could touch her, he thought, if he did not speak, if the time was left free of spoken stains. It could be a dream, or a whim, or a slice of ecstasy without unwanted, unnecessary, unsweet sound. Silence would govern them. His hands would adore her bright hair and tease her frail clothing before dropping to those soft bare thighs.
He imagined how her skin would feel to his: subtly warm, and satin-smooth in contrast to his own weapon-worn roughness. He would feel the blood in her veins, and feel the vaguest movement of each surprised muscle beneath his fingers, and see the questioning cast to her diamond eyes, though she would not be concerned or unsure. He would kiss her. With his hands on her thighs, though barely, he would lower his lips scarcely to her cheek, half missing the flush on her skin: a heated pink called on by his audacity. Then perhaps she would turn her face to his, and bless his own cheek with her breath.
If she kissed him, it would be for a moment only, since time was dear and the dream might at any moment die. Her sugared lips would tempt him for a second, or a few, or a minute, but no longer. He would move quickly to have his hands learn all the lessons of her body, if she would allow it. He would sell her his heart for the pleasure. And then he would bow before her, not to speak dull words of love, but to act speeding passions in true evidence.
He could confront the scent of her fresh skin, so near to his face but separated by cruel threads of cloth. But his hands could slip beneath those threads, at her consent, as a poor substitute for eyes. He would only feel her fresh, tingling skin. And taste, the taste of clean water and air and linen, as his tongue circled her breast in a spiralling move to the peak. Her hands would be on his shoulders, then in his hair, then held high as he lifted the shift. Shy fingers would fall over the edges of her shape as the fabric passed.
Unclothed before him she would stand, with her warmth and ivory radiance outshining all else in the world. He would sink to the ground, and his mouth would follow from her breast and the soft shadow beneath to her waist and below. Then even lower as his breath stroked her slender leg, from hip to knee. Then back up again, then back down. The sweetness would sing to his senses as he pressed closer between her thighs, where his lips would graze like energy across her, ever upward, until her heat was ruled on his memory and her taste changed the style of his soul.
He would spare no time, and they would frighten the sky with their quickness, finding a sanctuary of a temporary kind on the prickling grass between the trees. Over and over they would protest the ground, naming it not ground but their bed, at last, and protest the trees, calling them not trees but witnesses to their union, forever. Then he would call her wife not by ring but by right of circumstance. And she could be his.
But such considerations came uninvited into his mind. There she still danced in the garden, and there he still stood on the terrace above. Nothing had passed.
He shamed himself at his thoughts. He had fouled her innocence with the things he dared think, with the violence of his impurity, as if his body could leave a scar on hers through mere fancy. He was certain it had. He could no longer look upon her with light affection or fondness, only terrible coveting lust. She had cursed him for his indiscretion, or perhaps he had cursed himself in her defence. So he turned his eyes downward and looked upon her no longer. It was an unbearable verdict of fate that he should be drawn to love her in so unhoneyed a way.
Slowly he left the terrace. He climbed the stairs back up to south arcade and passed around over High Bridge to the centre way. As he went, his pace quickened, desiring with every step to put himself as far from the garden as possible. The memory of the heat of trees stung him.
Master Elrond was coming down the steps when he reached north arcade. He stopped, somewhat breathless, and nodded to his friend.
Elrond grinned obliviously and asked, "Have you seen my daughter?"
Glorfindel smiled faintly in return, then quickly looked down at his hands. "I believe she went to the great garden," was all he could say.