This chapter is dedicated to Wídfara. Namarië, my friend. May we travel together again someday, beyond the bounds of Arda.
Melpomaen's spirits were high as they prepared to break camp. His left arm ached little, though he knew it was as yet far from healed; his ankle felt fine, if a bit stiff from inactivity. Most of his delight, though, came not from the freedom from physical discomfort, but from the knowledge that their decision to retrace their steps northward and take a longer and safer route home would also increase the time he and Haldir could spend together.
He looked over at his friend, who was frowning as he considered how best to distribute their loads. The dried venison was a welcome addition to their supplies, but added considerably to the bulk and weight of their packs.
"Can you carry any more, Maen?" Haldir asked him.
"Yes, if you let me put my pack on first and then lash the rest on for me. Otherwise I think I'd have trouble with my arm," Melpomaen said.
Haldir nodded and waited patiently for Melpomaen to finish getting his things ready. The injury would slow the younger Elf down for several more weeks, at least, though he was now able to use his hand somewhat. When Melpomaen had finished securing his pack and slipped it over his shoulders, Haldir added a large cloth-wrapped parcel of dried meat, binding it carefully so that the weight of it would fall evenly.
"There. I think that's everything." Haldir looked around. "I am almost sorry to leave here; after a week, this clearing began to seem rather homelike."
"Mm. Although I would far rather sleep in a talan than on the ground! Since we spotted that bear, I've been thinking how lucky we have been so far on our journey, to have encountered neither wild beasts nor Orcs," said Melpomaen.
"It has been a good journey in many ways," said Haldir, grinning at his partner.
Melpomaen smiled back. "So it has." He inhaled deeply, enjoying the crispness of the early morning air, softened by just a touch of moisture from the river nearby. "Shall we go, then?"
They passed eastward, to the meadow where Melpomaen had fallen, then turned north to retrace the path they had taken but a little while before. Summer hurried to its end, now; here and there leaves that had been green flashed bronze and golden in the light of dawn.
"Autumn is my favorite season," remarked Haldir. "Especially at home, when the mellyrn leaves turn to gold. I will miss seeing them this year."
"Oh, but you will see them, Dír; you just won't see them change. We would have to be delayed until spring for you to miss that. Unless our fortunes take some serious turn for the worse, I think it unlikely."
"I suppose so. I shall take comfort in seeing alien trees instead – less beautiful than a mallorn, perhaps, but striking in their own way." Haldir pointed. "There, you see that maple with the leaves on one branch turning crimson? Less restful to the eye, but a glorious color nonetheless."
Melpomaen shivered, murmuring, "It looks like blood..."
"No, do not be silly, Maen," said Haldir, but he looked at his friend with concern, wondering what could have provoked such a remark.
Trying to laugh, Melpomaen wondered himself why he had spoken so. He was not prone to such flights of imagination. "I am sorry. You are right, that was a silly thing for me to say. I do not know what I was thinking."
Haldir glanced at him sharply, then shrugged. "Let's see how quickly we can travel today; although the autumn colors are lovely, they ought to remind us that time is passing and we need to hasten our steps."
He set a brisk pace, fast enough that they both saved their breath for walking, not talking, until the sun rose to noon. They stopped then for a quick meal. Saving the dried meat for another time, they ate the last of a fish that Melpomaen had cooked the evening before.
"You have a sure hand with the cooking," said Haldir. "Even if you have only one to do it with at present!"
Melpomaen mimed a bow, accepting the compliment. "Anything to keep you from doing it," he joked. Haldir could prepare an edible meal, but they both acknowledged that Melpomaen's skill was far greater.
Haldir pretended indignation, saying, "Well, if that is how you feel about it, perhaps you should do all the cooking, from now on! I will do the cleanup afterward."
"If you like," Melpomaen shrugged. "I'd not mind that, actually. I quite enjoy cooking, but not dealing with the dirty pans and plates. And I cannot help hunt for much at the moment, so that will have to be your task. It would seem a fair enough division of effort."
"If you think that is fair, I would be happy to relinquish all the culinary duties to you. I prefer tasty food, and seem not to be able to prepare it as I would like. Strange, really; you would think that knowing a bit about herbs and so on would be a help. Evidently not."
"Done, then," Melpomaen said, stretching. "Ready to go? If we can walk a touch more slowly this afternoon, my ankle will thank you."
"Is it troubling you?" asked Haldir as they began to move once again. "You should have said something earlier."
"No, it doesn't ache, not yet, but it feels not quite right, if you know what I mean. A slower pace would be welcome," said Melpomaen.
"We may be trying to make good time, but if you injure your ankle again, that would mean a far greater delay for us than a more leisurely pace. And we could talk more easily as we travel, too," Haldir said.
Nevertheless they spoke little for much of the afternoon, simply enjoying the beauty of the day. Clouds were gathering in the west; they could see the edge of the storm peeping over the tops of the forest to their left, but as yet the sun was above the billowing masses, and the air was calm and pleasant.
"We must be sure to prepare in case the rain reaches us overnight," said Haldir eventually.
"Yes," agreed Melpomaen. "I think we had better stop soon, while enough light remains to set up camp."
Haldir nodded. "We did get an early start this morning, and we have made good time." He looked around and pointed. "There is where we stopped on our way south. And we can probably travel another hour, yet, before the sun is low. Thus far we have done well, with this change of route. I hope that every day goes as smoothly."
They continued as the sun began to disappear behind the clouds. Finally Melpomaen looked up, saying, "Now, Dír, or we risk being unable to see; unless you wish to cope with dark and rain at once?"
Haldir rolled his eyes. "All right, all right. We will stop now."
Long practice had their campsite laid out quickly, and a fire crackling under the trees. Haldir brought water and wood as Melpomaen prepared the meal.
"I think the secret is really in letting it all simmer together for a time," he said. "Especially with these dried meats; rushing it just doesn't work well." He turned to look at Haldir. "Which would give us time..." he let his voice trail off, tilting his head inquiringly.
He had been anticipated: Haldir was behind him, hands busy unfastening the laces that held Melpomaen's clothing on, and carefully slipping the tunic over the healing arm.
"Yes, it will give us time," he breathed into Melpomaen's ear. "So come with me." Haldir had already undressed, having slipped out of his own garments after bringing the final armful of wood, while Melpomaen was adding some final touches to his stew. He led the younger Elf over to the blankets and lay down, pulling the other to lie beside him.
He cupped Melpomaen's chin in his hand and drew their faces together for a lingering kiss. When he paused for a moment, Melpomaen made a soft noise of protest. Haldir pressed his fingers to his lover's lips.
"What do you want, meldanya? Tonight, I am yours to command," he said.
Melpomaen's eyes widened. Most of their lovemaking had been done as equals, although with his injuries, the last several times Haldir had taken control. Now he was relinquishing that, allowing Melpomaen to choose what form their pleasure would take.
"I want... I don't know if I can do what I want, just now," he said.
"Try telling me and we will see," urged Haldir.
"No, not today," Melpomaen shook his head. "Some other time, when my arm has healed more. I would like to see you arouse yourself, as you once watched me; and then I would," he paused, "I would like to find my own pleasure in your mouth. If that would be all right with you, Dír."
"Of course. As I said, I am at your will, this night."
He sat up and knelt before Melpomaen, his feet tucked under him, knees spread apart. He began by caressing the skin of his thighs, pressing his palms in a firm stroke down from hip to knee, trailing his fingers lingeringly. The touch itself felt good, but seeing his lover watch his movements made him far more excited. Determined to make his display as sensuous as he could for Melpomaen's benefit, he carefully kept his hands far from his groin for the moment, instead shifting to run his fingers up his ribs, circling the nipples and then pinching them.
Melpomaen's eyes followed every movement of Haldir's hands, his own fingers twitching as he imagined giving the same caresses. His organ pulsed in sympathy with the quivering flesh before him. Haldir began to speak, murmuring how he felt, his eyes half-closed as he concentrated on the sensations.
"Knowing you are watching makes me feel as if you were the one touching me, Maen. It is odd; I can do whatever will feel best at the moment, and yet feel that it is you, not I, who knows best what I want. Ah," he gasped, as he finally allowed himself to stroke his eager member. "That is... almost as good as being with you, inside you, because you are here with me, I can feel your eyes like a touch on my skin, burning in desire, as I burn for you." He used both hands, now, one stroking rhythmically, the other reaching behind him, a finger teasing the tight opening to relax.
"Now, I can imagine the impossible, to have you inside me and me inside you at once," he panted, looking into Melpomaen's eyes as he slid one finger home, leaning back to press as deeply as he could. His excitement was almost too great to sustain, but he paused. "Maen, I would never do this with another. I could never think of it. This is my gift to you," and his hips bucked as he released a hot stream into the air.
Melpomaen leaned over to kiss him, murmuring, "I know, meldanya, and a beautiful gift it is; one I will return to you someday, should you wish it."
Haldir took possession of Melpomaen's mouth, tongue thrusting deeply as the last quivers of his orgasm shook him. His hands threaded through the loose hair, finding the sensitive spots on neck and ears as he pressed himself against his lover.
"I know you will," he whispered, withdrawing a few inches. "But in the meantime, you had a second request of me."
He pushed Melpomaen gently backward to the blankets and placed himself between the opened legs. Tenderly he ran his tongue around the warm pouch, mouthing the fragile contents, before easing upwards to the swollen shaft. He could smell the scent of Melpomaen's arousal; watching Haldir bring himself to climax had nearly caused Melpomaen to do the same, untouched. Haldir sucked in the tip, rubbing it with his tongue, his hands busy below. Then he ran the point of his tongue along the vein throbbing the length of the shaft, moving up and down until Melpomaen was tossing restlessly at the teasing sensation.
"Do you want this, too?" Haldir asked, pulling his mouth away and rubbing with his finger until Melpomaen could be in no doubt of what he was asking.
"Yes, yes," Melpomaen said. "Just don't stop!"
He tensed at the exquisite sensation as simultaneously Haldir's finger nudged his most sensitive spot within, and his shaft was completely engulfed with the warm wetness of Haldir's mouth. He clutched at the blanket, crying out, "Oh, Dír, oh."
Haldir kept his throat relaxed as Melpomaen thrust into his mouth. One push, two, three, and the bitter seed spilled out. He swallowed convulsively, careful of his teeth, and bestowed one last lingering kiss on the soft skin. Moving up to lie next to his lover, Haldir asked, "Is there aught else you would have of me, tonight?"
Melpomaen opened his eyes languidly. "What else could I possibly ask for, at this time?"
Haldir smiled. "I couldn't think of much, just at the moment – but a promise is a promise, so if you could, I would do it." He wriggled into a more comfortable position, adding, "I think in the morning I'll want to bathe, after all this pleasant exertion."
"Hm, yes, that sounds like a good idea. It is a little dark to do so now." Melpomaen sat up. "But I imagine that my stew is probably ready, if you are hungry?"
"Naturally." Haldir sniffed. "It smells delicious, in fact. Let me just wash my hands and face, and dress again; the evening grows a bit chilly and I do not want to prance about with no clothes on, enjoyable though you might find it to watch!"
Laughing, Melpomaen said, "Well, I would enjoy it, as I suppose you would like to see me the same way, but I'd be cold undressed too. Pass me my leggings, if you will?"
Once clad again they sat down to eat supper. Melpomaen pulled a face, and Haldir asked, "What is it? The stew is as good as always."
"It isn't the stew, I was just thinking about us. Whenever I think of our future I become discouraged, especially after we make love; it is just so difficult to think of giving that up. I love to make love with you, Haldir, because I love you and it is such a beautiful way to show that. I suppose I am just resentful that because we happen to both be binn, our feelings for each other are going to be considered wrong by all our friends and family," he sighed.
"I have the same feelings," admitted Haldir. "To me it seems quite unfair too. We are told that our fëar do not die, whatever may happen to our bodies; and that after a time in Mandos, they may be rehoused. (1) Could not a fëa that had once been in a male body return to that of a female? And if so, what possible difference can it make, whether both members of a couple are male, or both female, or one of each? It is the bond between their fëar that is important, not the gender of their bodies. I have heard the Lady Galadriel say that the Valar themselves are neither male nor female, though they take on such forms. (2) I have known biss who were as strong and hardy as any benn; what qualities in their nature are so different that their fëar must needs be embodied as female?"
Melpomaen shook his head. "You know more than I of these matters, Dír. We should talk more of them, over these next weeks. Perhaps we can find some argument to convince at least your family to accept us? I know your attachment to your brothers is deep, and I would not like to think of you having to lie to them for the rest of your life – our lives," he amended.
Haldir sighed, and said, "I don't know. I would like to tell Rúmil and Orophin; but I would rather lose my closeness with them than lose you." He spooned up his last bite and yawned. "Do you want to take the first watch as usual? I think I will just stack up the bowls for now and clean them on my shift."
"Whatever you like," said Melpomaen. "Yes, I will take the first watch."
"Good. Wake me if there is need."
He rolled himself up in his blanket and was quickly treading the path of dreams, knowing that Melpomaen was watching to keep them both from harm.
(1) Fëar: spirits, souls. The word is Quenya and may have been adopted in Lothlórien due to Galadriel's influence. She undoubtedly met the lord of Mandos in her youth in Valinor, and would have known much about his halls.
(2) The Silmarillion, p. 21. "But when they desire to clothe themselves the Valar take upon them forms some as of male and some as of female; for that difference of temper they had even from their beginning, and it is but bodied forth in the choice of each, not made by the choice, even as with us male and female may be shown by the raiment but is not made thereby."
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