36. Through Mirkwood
“All right,” he said quietly, “I’m awake, Maen.” He rolled out of his blankets and stretched. “Nothing has happened, I imagine?”
“Not quite nothing,” said Melpomaen in equally subdued tones. “Nothing dangerous, however. I believe the Dwarves are keeping watch themselves, over us if not over our surroundings. At least three times during the first part of my watch I saw that Orin’s eyes were open – too often, unless Dwarves can rest waking, as we can in extremity, and I never heard that they could – and some time ago I saw him nudge Frerin, and now I think that Frerin is awake and aware. One might think they do not trust us.”
“They may not, for all their friendliness earlier. Would you be so hasty to trust strangers, and sleep untroubled?” Haldir asked.
“I suppose not, but it galls me a little. I will try not to be offended, though, for you are right.” Melpomaen crawled under Haldir’s deserted blanket. “May your watch go well, meldanya.”
It did. Haldir noted that Frerin was indeed wakeful, and that an hour or two into his watch Borin seemed to take over from the other Dwarf, but he pretended to be oblivious to them, instead pacing the perimeter of the clearing on a regular round, and tending to the fire.
Dawn with its twitter of birdsong woke the sleepers. The Dwarves were near-silent, almost surly to Melpomaen’s mind, even Frerin who had been so full of conversation the previous night. They shared porridge and hot tea, prepared by Haldir. The Dwarves busied themselves reharnessing their ponies, now speaking to each other in their own tongue. The fire had been quenched and the Elves were readying their packs to depart when Frerin spoke to them in Westron. “Master Elf.”
Both Haldir and Melpomaen looked at him.
“Our paths, it would seem, lie in the same direction for a time.”
“They do,” said Haldir.
“On dangerous roads, greater numbers may bring greater safety to all. Would you consider traveling with us? I doubt that the pace of our ponies would outstrip your own, burdened as they are with the goods in our carts.” Behind the beard that concealed most of his face Frerin looked a little ill at ease. “Or you could ride, though I do not know that you would find that comfortable.”
Melpomaen shifted, as if he would speak, and Haldir stepped on his foot, saying, “I do not think your ponies need be burdened with us, but we will travel with you.” Under his breath, he added in their own language to Melpomaen, “We agreed to this last night.”
“I wasn’t going to object,” whispered Melpomaen indignantly in the same language, but subsided as Haldir continued to answer Frerin.
“I am sure that we can make suitable arrangements to ensure the well-being of all of us; with six to draw upon, only half need take a watch each night, for instance.”
“Yes, of course,” said Frerin in some confusion, realizing that the Dwarves’ action of the previous night had been observed by the Elves. “We would consider you a part of our company, for the time.”
Haldir said, “Very well then, we accept.”
“May we borrow space in a cart for our packs, though?” asked Melpomaen. “It would be easier to scout without them.”
“Certainly,” said the Dwarf, clearly relieved to have what he saw as the leading role once again. “There is room in the stores-cart, I am sure.”
Khîm climbed down from his seat and beckoned the Elves over, moving a sack of meal and a flitch of bacon aside to make room for their things. “Be welcome,” he said, surprising them with a smile that shone white in his black beard.
“We won’t have to worry about water,” murmured Haldir to Melpomaen as they made certain their packs would be secure, and not damage anything of the Dwarves’. A row of four great casks stood at the far end of the cart, behind a second row of smaller casks like the one that had held the wine the previous night.
“Unless it is beer,” Melpomaen replied.
“Surely not,” said Haldir, worried. “They would not travel without water on this road.”
“No, I am only teasing you. I saw Khîm fetching the water last night. Thank you, Khîm,” he added in louder tones, in the Common Tongue. “All is secure here now.”
The Elves stepped back to allow the Dwarves room for the ticklish business of maneuvering their vehicles back onto the rutted earth of the road.
The sturdy ponies’ pace was more rapid than they would have expected, but Haldir and Melpomaen were well able to keep up with them, even ranging ahead of the file of carts to check the path. Twice they found large branches fallen partly across it, and cleared the road before the Dwarf-carts had to stop. That day passed quickly, and the next several as well. The Elves grew accustomed to the harsh accents of the Dwarf-language, with which their temporary companions conversed on the road, calling forward and back over the thud of the ponies’ hooves and the creaking of the wagons. For their part, Haldir and Melpomaen elected to speak in the Silvan tongue, less well-known to outsiders than the Grey-Elven. In the evenings, however, by common consent the whole party used Westron. Conversation was awkward at first, and confined to necessities, but over several days they became somewhat friendlier.
When they arranged their watch-schedule the first evening, they agreed that the Elves should both watch on the same nights, with Frerin as the third that night. Melpomaen was careful to conceal his pleasure at that decision. He looked forward to being able to spend several nights in undisturbed rest, with Haldir next to him.
They spread their blankets together as a matter of course when it came to it, lying close together. It was tantalizing to feel Haldir’s breath upon his cheek, and yet be unable to roll over and kiss the mouth of the one he loved above all things in the world. Melpomaen considered it. Then, in the guise of shifting position, he dropped his free arm behind his back and reached to touch Haldir’s belly. Haldir seized his wrist, but not before Melpomaen had discovered that his partner was as frustrated as himself by their nearness, with no chance of expressing it.
“Sh. Just let me. . .” and Melpomaen wriggled his hips backward until his buttocks rested against the hard bulge at Haldir’s groin. Layers of fabric and leather, as well as the presence of the Dwarves on the far side of the fire, ensured that no more could be done. “Only to feel you close,” he added, squeezing Haldir’s hand.
Haldir sighed, but did not move away; instead he brought their joined hands to rest on Melpomaen’s waist. Thus curled together, they slept.
On the sixth day after they began traveling with the Dwarves, as the whole party sat eating a savory stew that Melpomaen and Khîm had concocted that used a combination of Elvish and Dwarf-style seasoning, Borin indicated that their choice of sleeping positions had not gone unnoticed.
“I have never had occasion to travel with Elves before,” said Borin, “and I am curious. Is it common among your people to share a bedroll when traveling?”
Haldir was in the midst of taking a large bite, and choked on it. While he was recovering himself, Melpomaen said carefully, “It is not unheard of. Some do, some prefer not. It is for them to choose what they want. In cool weather, to share warmth makes sense.”
“Ah. Yes, we sometimes do the same,” Borin said. “Do you recall, Orin, the journey we made many years ago, with our kinsmen Bifur and Bofur, and more than a dozen others? We began so early in the season that there was still snow on the ground. Everyone shared blankets then.”
“I remember it well,” said Orin. “Was it not Glóin and Bofur who continued to do so even into the summer?”
Borin agreed, “Yes, it was.”
“Do you always travel with kin?” inquired Haldir, now that he had stopped coughing.
“Nearly always; certainly by preference. Though we may have a broader idea of kinship than Elves do. I do not know for certain, but,” Borin stopped, and shot a torrent of Khuzdul at Frerin.
Frerin said, “I think it would be said ‘third cousin’ in Westron. My father’s father’s mother’s father was your father’s mother’s father’s father.”
“Third cousin,” agreed Borin. Turning back to the Elves, he continued, “Frerin and I, then, are third cousins; that is counted as close kinship among us. The descendants of an ancestor five or six generations back are expected to be known. Within those, we prefer to search for partners for trade and travel and craftwork, as needed. Is it not similar among your people? Are the two of you not related?”
“No,” answered Haldir. “Closeness among our people is not determined by kinship. Not always. I have brothers to whom I am close, and we have worked together for many years, but Melpomaen and I are not kinsmen.”
“Is it appropriate to ask if either of you is espoused?” asked Khîm, entering the conversation for the first time. “Like Borin, I do not know the customs of your folk well. Except for the trading-customs of the Wood Elves. Pah. The tolls the Wood-king charges for the use of this path are high.”
“We could avoid them and go around his realm to the north, but that is a far longer and yet more dangerous road,” said Orin. “I have traveled it, and I would not wish to do so again.” He shivered.
“Let us not discuss the Elf-king here,” said Frerin.
“No. We stray from my question in any event. Do you have spouses? Or should I not ask that?” repeated Khîm.
“It is not a usual question to ask, but I do not take offense,” said Haldir.
“No, we are not wedded,” said Melpomaen
Borin set down his empty cup and said something to Orin in the Dwarf-tongue. Orin nodded.
Melpomaen realized that his answer was not clear, and tried again. “I have no wife, nor does Haldir.”
Haldir, as curious about Dwarvish custom as they seemed to be about the Elves, decided to turn the tables a bit. “What about you? May we enquire if any of you are espoused? Is such a question allowed by your customs?”
Nodding, Borin said, “Yes, although it would rarely be asked. Usually everyone would already know the answer, having heard an announcement of the betrothal. Of the four of us here, only Khîm is married.”
“Married is a mild way of putting it,” said Orin.
Puzzled, Melpomaen asked, “What do you mean?”
Khîm’s ears were red as he answered for himself. “They are teasing me. My wife and I have six children, four sons and two daughters, when most couples have only two or perhaps three children at most.”
“Congratulations to you,” said Haldir. “That sounds like a fine family. Few of our people have so many children either; two or three is common with us as well.”
“Thank you,” said Khîm, but he continued to look uncomfortable.
Frerin, who had been silent during the later part of the conversation, now spoke. In a strained voice, he said, “I think we should prepare for our rest, now.”
Melpomaen and Haldir looked at him, wondering, but the other Dwarves seemed to understand, jumping up and gathering the remains of the meal.
“I will watch first,” said Frerin, still in that tight voice.
“All right,” said Haldir. “Maen, do you want second watch or third?”
“Oh, I will take second,” said Melpomaen. He did not much care , and knew that if he could, Haldir preferred to avoid the middle watch, which interrupted sleep so badly. “Wake me when it is time,” he told Frerin, and went to where he and Haldir had spread their blankets.
The next evening, again preparing the meal with Khîm, who seemed to be the chosen cook among the Dwarves just as Melpomaen usually cooked for himself and Haldir, Melpomaen found an opportunity to inquire further about the previous night’s conversation.
“I am surprised only you are wedded,” he remarked. “Is that usual, for your folk?”
Khîm gave his pot a stir and pushed it well into the coals before he answered. “It is not unusual. We are all well into our middle years of life and more; I doubt that Orin or Borin will ever now wed, and certainly Frerin will not.”
“Why, may I ask?”
“There are fewer Dwarf-women than men. It has always been so. Not all of the women wish to wed; and if a man loves a woman and she weds someone else, he will rarely look at another afterward. That happened to Frerin. When he was young, he fell in love with Dís, but she spurned his suit, for he had little to offer. Her sons are dead now, and her husband as well; she might have been happier with Frerin after all.”
Melpomaen thought about that as they finished their cooking and called to the others to come eat. He did not want to bring Frerin painful memories, but he was curious about the Dwarvish customs.
“What you said before made me wonder. Do Dwarves wed once only?” he inquired of Borin as they finished eating.
“Yes, of course,” said Borin, surprised. “Is it not the same for Elves?”
“It is indeed.” Haldir was the one who answered, in his more fluent Westron. “Most of our folk wed, usually by early in their second century. Doubtless you are aware that the lives of Elves are bound to Arda, and our bodies do not age and fail as do those of other races. But if one spouse should be mortally injured, say in battle, and die, the other does not wed again. More likely the bereaved spouse would travel to the West. I have heard though that among Men matters are different, and if a spouse dies the living partner may wed again. I have even heard that sometimes a couple may part voluntarily and choose to join with others instead, though I find it hard to credit such tales.”
“I have heard such too,” said Orin. “Often enough that I believe there must be some truth in them, though it seems astonishing. But Men are different from both our peoples; weaker, shorter-lived.”
“Though they can be gallant and brave,” said Khîm. “Think of Bard, shooting the dragon. Think of the Halfling Bilbo, who came with King Thorin, and fought against the goblins at the Battle of Five Armies.”
“Halfling?” queried Melpomaen. “Is that a Man?”
“They are like Men, though much smaller, less than my height and more slender,” said Borin. “We pass through their lands on our way to the Blue Mountains. Farmers, mostly, but we do some small trade with them. I know of none that live to the east of the Misty Mountains, and they do not travel.”
“Save Bilbo,” interjected Frerin.
“Save Bilbo,” agreed Borin. “But he came only once, and has returned whence he came, with dragon-gold as his reward.”
The story was unfamiliar to the Elves, so Borin recounted for them how Thorin Oakenshield had hired the Halfling Bilbo Baggins as a burglar to help him spy out the lair of the dragon Smaug, to reclaim his kingship. “And though Thorin fell,” he ended, “still the battle was won, and the dragon slain, and Dáin became King under the Mountain. My kindred came with Dáin from the Iron Hills at that time; not long ago, even as men reckon it.”
Melpomaen yawned, and apologized.
“It is late,” said Frerin. “A good tale, Borin, but overlong for a traveling evening.”
“Ah, well, we are in no great rush, are we? If we do not depart with the dawn, no harm will be done,” said Borin.
Nevertheless all except Orin, who had the first watch, quickly prepared to sleep. As usual Melpomaen and Haldir curled up together on the opposite side of the fire from the three sleeping Dwarves.
“Borin sounds like you,” Haldir murmured.
“How do you mean?”
“Not concerned about how long his journey is. Though I doubt his reasons are the same as yours!” Haldir had his hand draped over Melpomaen’s shoulder, and his fingers strayed to find a nipple through the fabric and tweak it.
“Dír!” said Melpomaen, in a strangled voice that he tried to keep quiet. “We can’t. . .”
“I know,” said Haldir regretfully, and moved a few inches away. “Perhaps we shouldn’t have agreed to travel with the Dwarves, but overall I have found it worthwhile. Certainly less burdensome, not having to bear our packs, and not needing to be concerned for either food or drink.”
“And safer, surely. And far easier watching. I know,” Melpomaen said. “It was the right decision.” But he sighed nonetheless.
A few minutes later, when he was on the brink of slumber, Melpomaen was pulled back to alertness by Haldir’s whisper in his ear. “Meldanya.”
“What is it?”
“I have an idea. I will suggest to Frerin tomorrow that we range further ahead than usual; we could slip off, and take a little time for loving. What do you think?”
The more Melpomaen thought about it, the better he liked it. They could scout as promised, if not quite so far as they might, steal some moments together, and return to the caravan. Unburdened, it should not be too difficult. “Yes,” he said. “Let us do so.”
Frerin was amenable to the suggestion that the Elves go further afield than was their wont, remarking that they had had no hint of danger on the journey so far, which surprised but pleased him.
“I think I know why,” said Haldir. “The king had bands of scouts out all winter, searching for a creature that has been terrorizing the wood-folk. Their presence doubtless has encouraged the more dangerous animals to depart, or at least be more wary, though they failed to catch what they were after.”
“That is worth knowing,” Frerin said. “I could wish that the king’s guards had told us this when we paid our toll at his gates. But I expect little of help from the Elf-king; he has never been a friend to Dwarves, though to give him his due he does not harass us either, only sets high tolls to travel through his lands.”
Haldir thought it best to say nothing. If the Dwarves were willing to treat himself and Melpomaen as distinct from the Elves of the woodland kingdom, he would not gainsay that. Instead he took leave, saying, “We shall see you at perhaps midday, then.”
Frerin nodded, and clucked to his ponies. As usual his cart was set to take the lead. Melpomaen had been helping Khîm stow the heavy cooking pot and supplies, but now trotted forward to join Haldir. “Ready?”
“Let us go,” said Haldir.
They set a quick pace and were soon out of sight of the carts. Melpomaen suggested, “Shall we scout for perhaps two hours, and then. . .?”
“That sounds like a fine idea,” Haldir agreed. “Do you want to check to the north or south?”
“I’ll take the north side of the road,” said Melpomaen, “and meet you on the road after.”
“Keep heading east, but mark the trees on the north and I’ll mark those on the south, so we can find each other,” Haldir said.
They took off. The journey had been so uneventful that neither of them expected trouble, though they were diligent in checking the woods for a good quarter-mile on either side. This area of Mirkwood was relatively clear of undergrowth, and the spiders seemed to have abandoned it, for only shreds and tatters of their webs remained in the lower branches of the great oaks. The two Elves had little difficulty in reconnoitering the area.
In late morning, Melpomaen returned to the road. He saw Haldir’s blazes on the trees beside the path, and thus knew that his partner was somewhat ahead of him. He quickened his pace. The ground here was gently rolling, and the road twisted to find the least hilly route. Around a curve Melpomaen saw Haldir just at the next bend, and called out.
Haldir turned when he heard Melpomaen’s voice, and hurried back. They embraced, kissing each other hungrily, until Haldir withdrew with a chuckle.
“Shall we stand here in the road, or find somewhere else, lest the Dwarves’s ponies make better time than we expect?”
Melpomaen’s smile lit up his face. “Somewhere else, please.”
“I just began to see signs to a spring not far off to the north; shall we go there?” Haldir took Melpomaen’s hand and drew him on.
This spring was closer to the path than the one they had found before meeting the Dwarves, though a hill concealed it from easy view.
“We’ve nothing to lie on, I fear,” said Melpomaen regretfully. “And – I did not think to bring the oil-flask, did you?”
“No.” Haldir bit his lip. “It does not matter. Come here.” He pulled Melpomaen to him and began by pressing kisses on each of his lover’s eyelids, moving on to attend to his ears and then the pulse in his throat, the caresses bringing a quiver to Melpomaen’s belly as he stood. Haldir tugged Melpomaen’s tunic loose and slipped one hand underneath it, stroking warm skin over firm muscle, pinching each nipple in turn until Melpomaen gasped Haldir’s name in pleading.
Loosening the lacing that held Melpomaen’s leggings, Haldir looked around. He backed Melpomaen against the nearest oak and knelt before him, setting free Melpomaen’s erect member and rubbing his own cheek against it for a moment before taking it into his mouth. Melpomaen threaded his fingers through Haldir’s hair as his lover began by running his tongue along Melpomaen’s length, circling the tip and repeating this several times before finally engulfing him. Haldir used his hands to stroke the base of Melpomaen’s organ, since he knew he would have difficulty breathing if he let Melpomaen penetrate him to full length.
Melpomaen scarcely noticed; being unable to make love for nearly a week, while being tantalized by the closeness of Haldir’s body every night, made him more than ready. Within a few moments he was at his peak, biting back a cry as his seed spilled into Haldir’s mouth.
A last few loving strokes of tongue on tender skin, and Haldir rose, putting his hands to either side of Melpomaen’s chest as he leaned against the rough bark of the tree. Melpomaen’s eyes were closed as Haldir kissed his lover’s lips. “Good?” he asked.
“Of course,” said Melpomaen, still with eyes closed, though his arms reached to pull Haldir close. “Always.” He held him tightly and sighed.
“What is it?”
“I’m sorry that I forgot to bring the oil. I would have liked to have you inside me,” Melpomaen told him.
“We could try, but I think it would be painful for you,” said Haldir.
“It would, I’m sure. Well, it will be only another handful of days until we are out of the wood, will it not? I can wait that long.” Melpomaen nudged Haldir’s hip. “You waited how many years for me?”
Haldir said, “Longer than I want to remember, Maen.” He took Melpomaen’s hand and guided it to his groin.
Melpomaen needed no further encouragement to loosen Haldir’s clothing in return. “What would you like me to do, Dír? The same?”
“Just touch me,” said Haldir, and twisted sideways so that his left shoulder was braced against the tree. “And kiss me.”
Wrapping his fingers around Haldir’s length, Melpomaen began to pump his fist up and down. His free left hand traced up Haldir’s chest, then circled his neck and drew their faces together. He tasted a trace of himself on Haldir’s lips as he thrust his tongue between them to find Haldir’s tongue and suck it back into his own mouth. But Haldir seized control, kissing Melpomaen with such intensity that the younger Elf was dizzied.
“More, meldanya,” muttered Haldir, breaking free of their kiss, and Melpomaen increased the speed of his stroking, tightening his grip as much as he dared. Haldir’s head was tipped to one side, the beads of moisture along his brow attesting to the heat of his passion. He groaned at Melpomaen’s rough handling, but it was a groan of pleasure; when Melpomaen sought to be more gentle, Haldir put his own hand over his lover’s to keep him there. “Yes,” he hissed, and spent, sticky fluid spurting past their fingers to patter to the damp leaf-strewn earth. He kissed Melpomaen hard once more, then leaned against the tree, drawing deep breaths.
Melpomaen wondered at the way Haldir was acting, but could not think of how he wanted to ask about it. Instead he said, matter-of-factly, “It was a good idea of yours to come be near a spring.” He stepped over to it to wash off his hands and face before rearranging his clothing.
After a moment Haldir followed suit, scooping up handfuls of the clear cold water to drink, as well. He glanced over at Melpomaen. “You have bark bits caught in your hair,” he said. “Do you have a comb in your belt-pouch?”
“No,” said Melpomaen, after looking.
“I think I have mine,” said Haldir. “Yes, here it is. We haven’t much time, but we ought to tidy up.”
Melpomaen spared a fleeting wishful thought for the long evenings they had had in Mirkwood, together in their chamber with the bathing room, but resolved to enjoy these few stolen moments. When they were again both ready, they headed back to the road.
“The Dwarves haven’t reached this point yet,” Melpomaen decided, looking at the rutted surface.
“Good. We can do a bit more scouting, then turn back,” said Haldir.
With regard to the Dwarves: I borrowed Frerin’s and Khîm’s names from Tolkien, but the names Orin and Borin are my own invention, modeled on extant ones. Some of the cultural points mentioned are canonical, but not all. For instance, the fact that there are twice as many Dwarf men as women is attested to, but the idea that six children would be a large number is mine. Tolkien did not say much about Dwarves; Part III of Appendix A in The Return of the King provides some infomation.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.