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The Otters of Imladris by Glorfindel

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Beta'd by Erviniae - thank you :D

Written for Tena.

“Erestor, can you see that?”Haldir furrowed his brow and pointed into the distance in the direction of the river.



“Where?” Erestor peered upstream, not completely sure of what he was supposed to be looking at.



“Over there, look,” Haldir pointed again and leaned forward as if to seek a closer view. “Something is floating in the water.”



“Oh yes.” Erestor replied. “How odd. I wonder what it could be.”



“Probably nothing,” Haldir decided. “Come on, we still have an hour’s journey ahead of us.”



As they passed the floating object, Erestor realised that it had once been an animal. “Haldir look. Oh no! Who could have done such a thing?” The young elf covered his shocked mouth with his fingers.



“Men probably,” The Galadhel looked at the skinned body of a large river otter. He knew that men hunted the animals for fur and it was a cold winter, but to leave it floating in the river, seemed callous beyond belief. “We need to find the holt and see if there are any young in there.” Haldir put his arm around his husband’s shoulder, kissed his cheek and whispered in his ear, “Get off your horse and help me.”



Lying on the snowy ground, Haldir and Erestor reached into the water down the sides of the bank to find the hidden entrance to the holt. “I found it,” Erestor said. “At least I think I have.”



Haldir put his arm down and felt for the hidden entrance. The holt would be above it and dry, the entrance underwater and hidden, to ensure the maximum safety of the cubs within. “Now, how are we going to uncover the nest with the ground as hard as it is? Any ideas?”



“I hate to even mention this because one of us is going to become very cold. Perhaps we could go underwater and get to it that way?” Erestor looked at his dagger and tested the ice-hardened ground. “That’s all I can think of.”



“It is all right,” Haldir grinned. “You are more slender than me, so you are the one who will get wet.”



Erestor slipped into the water, “It is freezing.”



“That is because it is winter,” Haldir smirked. “You want to be quick so none of the fish think you are their next meal. They are probably very hungry, there is not much food to be found this time of year.”



The dark elf felt under the bank for the entrance to the holt and then ducked underneath the water. Feeling around in the dry nest, he retrieved a furry body. Reaching around, it became apparent that there was only one puppy and so he brought it to the surface.



The tiny, wet body seemed barely alive. Haldir wrapped it in the blanket that he originally unpacked for Erestor and tucked it inside his fur cloak. He retrieved another blanket and wrapped it around the dark elf who shivered violently. “Come, we need to get this baby back and you need to warm up,” Haldir helped Erestor mount his horse and they set off, making good speed.



Within the hour, they entered the gates of the Last Homely House and the snow started to fall. The baby otter lay snug against Haldir’s chest and was beginning to stir. Erestor shook with the cold, the snow settling in his wet hair and his lips taking on a blue tinge. Feet and fingers numbed and unfeeling, would cause him pain when he thawed, but he felt good; he had saved a baby animal from a certain death and so he considered his discomfort was worth it.



A short while later, both elves entered the entrance to the house and smiled as the warmth hit them. The puppy was taken to the healing rooms; however, when Elrond saw the state of Erestor he tended to him first.



Clothing was stripped off and Erestor sat huddled in blankets and hot water bottles while sipping a hot drink and waiting for the bath to fill, while Elrond looked at the baby otter.



“He is very underweight and will need looking after. Baby otters stay with their mothers until at least a year old. Judging from his size, he was still being fed by her.” Elrond stroked the puppy’s head and then wrapped him up in a fresh blanket. “We need to make a supply of otter compatible milk and you and Erestor can look after it.” He handed the tiny animal to the Galadhel and smiled. “Isn’t he sweet,” he said, fondly stroking his finger over the sleepy animal’s forehead. “What are you going to name your first child?”



Haldir looked shocked and Erestor laughed loudly. “Get in the bath,” Elrond said, pleased that the young elf had not come to any harm from his experience.



~~oOo~~



The bath wore Erestor out. His feet and fingers were painful as they came back to life in the water. All he wanted to do was to crawl into bed and go to sleep. Sitting in front of the fire so that his hair could dry, he felt himself drifting. In the background was the sound of the puppy playing. The hot, spiced wine that Haldir made for him was beginning to work its magic and so he closed his eyes and fell into a blissful sleep.



Haldir held a cup with a spout up to the otter’s mouth. He drank greedily, enjoying the fish oil infused milk as though it was his first ever meal. The small creature gave tiny high-pitched cries of protest whenever his new ada withdrew the feed, causing Haldir to wonder if he would have enough or if another cup was required. Eventually, the suckling slowed and the baby otter’s eyes started to close.



“Go to sleep little baby,” Haldir whispered to the otter, hoping that Erestor would not hear him and think he was being silly. He wrapped the tiny body in a warm, fluffy blanket and cuddled it close to his chest.



When Haldir saw Erestor asleep, he put his small charge down on the sofa, lifted his young husband up and carried him to the bed. It was a snowy cold night outside, but inside it was warm and cosy. Candles glowed in the brackets, shedding a soft warm light on his sleeping husband’s skin. How Haldir loved Erestor. He had despaired of ever meeting his soul mate and when at his lowest point and deciding that he would look no longer, he had, quite literally, stumbled over him. Erestor was a junior counsellor and whilst running along the corridor for a meeting that he was late for, he bumped into the Galadhel, sending him backwards into a statue of Ereinion’s first horse. Haldir’s head connected with the horse’s stone hoof and he was knocked out cold.



Some minutes later, when Haldir regained consciousness, he saw a very flustered and panicking young elf, apologising rapidly and looking extremely upset. Behind Erestor was a crowd of elves, all offering advice. The young elf felt alone, in spite of the company, and cursed himself for taking so long to get ready that morning. He knew that he would be in trouble and sighed because it would be his third reprimand that month. This time he would be required to stand in front of Lord Elrond, whom he was in awe of.



“Please be all right,” the young elf said. His worried voice was matched by his unhappy face.



Haldir came to and he looked at the elf fussing over him. Never had he seen one so beautiful. Dark hair, pale cream skin, warm brown eyes and the sweetest, most kissable deep pink lips. “I am fine,” he said and took Erestor’s hand. “Do not worry, I will be all right.”



The rest was history. Haldir had courted the junior counsellor and eventually wedded him. Galadriel had graciously consented to her Marchwarden being loaned to Elrond’s house whilst Erestor completed his counsellor training and gave them new rooms overlooking the mountains at the back of the main house. They married in the summer and this would be their first Yule together as a bonded couple; somehow the little pup sleeping by the fire wrapped in a fluffy blue blanket, made it even more special.



~~oOo~~



The next morning Elrond came to visit. “I am really only here to see the otter,” he said to Erestor who was feeding it with the fish oil flavoured milk. “I know that you will be all right. Haldir would have called for me if you were not.”



“Would you like to feed it?” Erestor asked whilst handing the small puppy to the elf lord.



Elrond was delighted. The baby animal suckled greedily at the spout and seemed very content when finished. “We should try giving him small bits of fish. The kitchen staff have been notified that they should save some fish for this little one. Isn’t he cute?” The elf lord kissed the baby otter on the forehead, revealing a side of himself that Erestor had rarely seen before. “I am surprised that there are otters in Imladris; because of the men in the villages upriver they have been virtually exterminated. They blame them for eating their fish and prize their fur. Isn’t he just the sweetest little baby? How could they kill such beautiful animals?” It was more a question for himself rather than Erestor and so he smiled as the puppy nuzzled his neck and asked, “Have you given him a name yet?”



“We have called him Celon, because one day, Valar willing, he will return to the river where he was born. I have told Haldir not to socialise him, so that he does not become tame, but I am afraid that it is falling on deaf ears.” Erestor took a library book from the table and showed it to Elrond. “It says here that one should not allow an otter to become tame as they may become trusting of humans. Haldir is convinced that it was humans who killed his nana.”



“Very likely,” Elrond reluctantly agreed. “It could have been no one else.” He wanted to hold the baby animal all day; there was something about it that made one want to never to put it down. “Would it be such a bad idea for the otter to be tame with elves? After all we would not harm it.”



“Is a baby otter able to tell the difference between humans and elves?” Erestor asked with eyebrow arched. “I think that we cannot make any supposition that it can; to do otherwise, risks compromising its future.”



“You are right,” Elrond agreed reluctantly and handed the puppy back to his junior counsellor. He knew that Erestor was correct and presented a good case for not allowing the animal to become tame. The elf lord smiled; if the dark elf carried on in this vein, he would soon be promoted to counsellor.



~~oOo~~



Lunch came and went. Erestor took the sleeping baby with him in a small blanket lined box and joined his husband at a table for two. Inquisitive elves were discouraged from peeping at the animal by the determined dark elf, and in the end, they were left alone.



“According to the book, when he is four months old, we should introduce him to water and teach him to swim.” Erestor took a spoonful of his cauliflower cheese. “Mmm. Comfort food.”



“I have this afternoon off,” Haldir grinned. “Elrond tells me that you do too.”



“I do indeed,” Erestor teased. “I wonder what we should do.” He looked around to make sure he would not be overheard and licked his spoon, the pink tongue extending a little further than it should. “This is your cock, meleth.”



Haldir stared open mouthed and eyes filled with desire. “You undo me,” he breathed.



“Every time,” Erestor smiled and took his hand.



~~oOo~~



The otter lay in the box, he was awake but his tummy was full and so he felt content. The corner of the blanket and the small teddy that Erestor had placed beside him were most interesting and occupied the puppy’s thoughts as he played.



In the bedroom lay two elves. Arms held each other close and they whispered to each other of their love.



Small butterfly kisses placed on Erestor’s lips made him sigh and Haldir took this as the cue to deepen the kisses. His tongue slid into his husband’s mouth and lips joined. They held each other tight and their tongues caressed as they moved unconsciously against each other.



Ending the kiss, when the need to feel more overtook him, Haldir looked at his husband through half-lidded eyes, dark with desire. “I love you,” he breathed, and then he kitten-licked Erestor’s throat and neck and gave him small suckling kisses as he moved further down.



Erestor felt small sharp darts of pleasure coursing through his nipples and so he idly stroked one with his finger. Haldir noticed and smiled. Taking the nipple in his mouth he sucked strongly, his tongue roughly swirling around the hard peak, causing his husband to cry out for more in his bliss.



“Do the other one,” Erestor breathed, as he threaded his fingers through his husband’s long blond hair. Haldir swapped nipples and sucked just as hard, causing the dark elf to sigh in blissful pleasure.



“Do you like that, sweet one?” Haldir asked, his voice rough and husky. Without waiting for an answer, he ran his fingers down Erestor’s sides and then trailed an array of kisses down his abdomen. A kiss to the head of his hardness and then it was ignored in favour of the inner thighs, which were kissed and licked until the dark elf pleaded for more intense sensation.



Warm, desire filled brown eyes looked down at the blond elf, and he gave a knowing smile. Haldir revelled in his husband’s sigh of blissful joy, caused by taking Erestor’s hardness into his mouth. The supple tongue stroked the arousal along the sides and up over the head, whilst strong encompassing lips created a delightful suction, all the time becoming faster until he felt the familiar arching of the dark elf’s back and the warm spray of come in the back of his throat.



“Meleth,” Erestor cried out and as his body relaxed, he smiled and parted his lips for his husband’s kiss. “Mmm…you are so good.”



Haldir smiled and drew back, his knees on either side of Erestor’s chest. He handed him a small bottle. “Oil me.” He closed his eyes and smiled as his hardness was caressed with the warm oil.



“Make love to me,” Erestor said softly and watched as his husband moved backwards to position himself between his parted legs. Haldir carefully bent the dark elf’s knees up to expose his secret entrance. The small puckered rosebud relaxed as the warrior’s oiled finger pushed in to the warmth within. Small thrills of restrained excitement ran through him as he anticipated what would come next. A second finger and Erestor could hardly contain himself; his husband found this most amusing.



Strong hands held Erestor’s hips up against his hardness. Haldir aligned his arousal with his entrance and pushed in slowly. Taking time to allow the dark elf to relax with the fullness inside him, he gently lowered them both down to the mattress and lay on top. “I love you; you are the only one I could ever love.”



A small movement and Erestor urged his husband to do more. Movements that were careful and measured became increasingly unrestrained and spontaneous. Haldir felt hands holding onto him as he held Erestor’s raised legs down with his arms and leaned forward to kiss the tempting pink mouth.



Lips met and brushed against the other as the two elves cried out in their passion, fëar uniting for an instant and all feelings exposed, as they existed for a split second in the nowhere, happy land of blissful ecstasy.



Mutual assurances of love permeated the atmosphere around them as the two elves relaxed against each other and held on because they could never envisage letting go. It was a small change in the state of their awareness, which saw them slip slowly and unwittingly, into the gentle arms of sleep.



Celon sat upright in his box, the teddy and blanket forgotten. He too felt the ethereal strands of love floating around in the air, and in a vague memory, he knew he had felt it before. A remembered warmth, a comfort that was now lost, a feeling of lonely sadness and longing for what, he knew not. The elves were quiet now and nothing stirred but he could hear the slight sounds of their breathing. The blond elf was warm and held him close. He remembered a time when another had done that, but the memory was hazy and made him feel sad because accompanying the remembered warmth were the terrifying sounds of the horror and agony of the one who had looked after him. He did not know what the screams, the harsh loud voices, and the banging and violent splashing had meant; nor the strange hand that had reached into the hidden entrance. The hand took his brother, whilst he moved to the very back of the holt, in some primal recognition of danger, to evade the grasping claw that sought to harm him. For what seemed a long time he waited for the warmth of the one who loved him to come back and care for him, so that he would feel safe again. It had not happened and he wondered what it all meant. All he knew was that he was taken from the cold by new beings who made sure his belly was warm and played with him. The elves spoke to him and he had no idea what their noises meant but they seemed gentle and caring so he trusted them. On another level, he could read their intentions and the reasons for their actions and implicitly knew that they would never harm him.



Small impatient cries filled the air. Celon wanted to be out of the box and with the ones who looked after him so that he could feel their warmth and safety. More importantly, he craved that special feeling that the one who looked after him before, gave him. The elves gave him similar feelings but it was not exactly the same. The puppy stood on his hind legs and found that if he leaned forward then the box would tip a little bit. If he put some force behind it, the box would tip a lot. It was not long before the baby otter stood free of the upturned box and ran into the elves bedroom.



Both Haldir and Erestor lay on their sides facing one another. The puppy tried crying out but they were in so deep a sleep they could not hear him. Another way would have to be found. If only he could reach the sheet. By jumping up from his hind legs, Celon managed to bite hold of the edge, strong claws took hold, and he edged himself up onto the bed. It was a simple matter to climb over Haldir and settle in-between the elves. A gentle hand closed around his body, he felt safe and warm, with a tinge of the special feeling of which he had only a remembrance.



~~oOo~~



“What is Celon doing in bed with us?” Erestor asked as the small baby otter looked up at him. “Haldir stop cuddling him and put him on the floor. He is a wild animal and the otter book says that he must not learn to love and trust humans.”



Haldir opened his eyes. “He is a baby and he has no mother. He needs love because that is what his mother would have given him for the first year.” He shut his eyes and then opened them again, “Also, we are not humans.”



“He won’t be able to tell the difference,” Erestor remonstrated.



“How not?” Haldir asked, laughing at his young husband. “You might not be able to, but just about every other living creature on Arda is able to tell the difference.”



“But it says in the book…,” Erestor started.



“Give me the book,” Haldir demanded. Erestor climbed out of bed and retrieved the book from the table in the next room. He found the page where it stated that otters were wild animals and should not be tamed and he took it in the bedroom to show his husband.



“See this book?” Haldir said grinning in a playfully malevolent way.



“Yes?” Erestor replied nervously.



“Obviously written by an idiot; so out of the window it goes.” Haldir quickly left the bed, taking the otter with him, and walked across the room. Before Erestor could stop him, he threw it out of the window. Below, there was a yell and Haldir remarked, “It seems I have returned Lord Elrond’s book to him.” He grinned and climbed back into bed.



“Oh no! We are in so much trouble now,” Erestor was nearly in tears and Haldir took pity on him. “I have already been in trouble for being late to a meeting this month and now I will be in trouble again.”



Haldir pulled a garment out of a drawer at the bottom of the wardrobe. “Back in a minute,” he grinned.



“Where are you going?” Erestor asked fearing the worst.



“I am going to tell Elrond that I threw that stupid book at his head. He won’t do anything to me,” Haldir kissed Erestor. “Meet you in the Hall of Fire, meleth.” He left the room and Erestor sat on the bed, fearing the worst. Surely, his husband was not going to eat breakfast in public with only a pink dressing gown on. But then again, he knew Haldir was perfectly capable of doing so and not batting an eyelid.



~~oOo~~





The Hall of Fire was filled with elves. Haldir sat next to Elrond with the otter on his lap. “Erestor is being a total orc about bringing up little Celon. He keeps quoting that damned book at me and I keep telling him that a baby animal needs love and it doesn’t matter if his mother is dead, he still needs love.” Haldir took a sip of his tea and continued, “He climbed into bed with us this morning and Erestor blew his top; blamed me for it.”



“Never mind,” Elrond said, hoping that Haldir would shut up as he had a thumping headache. “He is young and still idealistic. If you want a quiet life let the otter get in the bath and play; that should shut him up for a while.”



“Good idea,” Haldir said and fed Celon a small piece of cake.



“Are you feeding that otter, cake?” Erestor demanded, his face red with frustration. “It said in the book, that you threw out of the window, that we should not give it human food and before you say anything, cake is cake, elven or human, it is the same stuff.” He banged his plate of fried eggs, bacon, tomatoes and mushrooms on the table and sat down heavily. “I apologise Lord Elrond but it seems my husband is somewhat of a twit.”



Elrond sniggered and Haldir kicked him under the table, “You are on my side, remember?”



“Oh no no no, I had a book crash off my head,” Elrond rose from the table. “Erestor I am giving you the morning off and when I see you in the council meeting this afternoon, which you will not be late for, I expect full details of the spanking you are going to give to your book throwing husband.” He rose from the table and leaned over towards Haldir, “You look like an elleth.”



“So do you,” Haldir grinned.



They watched the elf lord leave the hall. Haldir gave Celon some more of the jam-filled cake and Erestor sighed in irritation.



“I just want to do what is right for Celon,” Erestor said in a small voice. “You may think this is a big joke but I happen to care what happens when he eventually leaves us. I could not bear it if he were killed because he had learned to trust.”



Haldir looked at his young husband, “I know meleth, but Celon does need to be loved, or else he will not know how to love and will never have a happy life, even though he is free.” He stroked Erestor’s neck. “I know how much the body of his mother horrified you, but if that is the only thing you ever see that so upsets you, then you are indeed Elbereth’s very own pet.”



“I cannot imagine anything worse than an animal skinned alive,” Erestor said biting his lower lip as he was becoming upset. “It would break my heart if that happened to Celon.”



“Then we will not let it happen. You agree that if we show him love he will be tame and not suitable to be returned to the wild?” Haldir looked at his husband for confirmation. “Then we will have him as a pet and keep him with us. He will be safe forever.”



“Is it right to do that?” Erestor asked, his eyes hoping that it was.



“If that is what he wants, then it is right,” Haldir smiled. “He climbed into our bed because he wanted to be with us. He likes our company.”



The decision to keep the puppy was like plucking the forbidden fruit from the highest branches of the tree. It was not the way of nature to keep orphaned baby animals safe from predators and he knew that Celon would be at a disadvantage, no matter how closely they had followed the otter book, as they were no substitute for what his mother could teach him about life in the river. Erestor had longed to hold the baby and play with him but his overriding sense of rightness had stopped him. The decision was made and so he could relax; it felt as though a burden was lifted from him, replaced by a freedom that seemed almost illicit and yet so right.



“Why don’t you hold our little baby,” Haldir said, breaking Erestor’s train of thought. He handed the puppy to his husband who hugged him to his chest and kissed his forehead. The baby animal became excited and licked the dark elf’s neck for all he was worth, whilst both elves laughed in their delight.



After breakfast, the elves went for a walk in the garden and let Celon scamper over the snowy ground. “Erestor, what do you think you are playing at?” Haldir demanded with no trace of frivolity on his face.



Erestor was momentarily shaken and opened his mouth to talk.



Haldir grinned, “You let me come out wearing only a dressing gown. Every elf is laughing at me.” From behind his back, he produced a winter rose, and gave it to the dark elf. “You are my husband; you are supposed to stop me from looking like a twit.”



“As if I could,” Erestor replied with a big grin on his face. “You look like a twit all the time.” He ran away shrieking with laughter as Haldir chased after him, the otter keeping up with them as they pursued one another through the snow. In the end, after playing with snowballs and building a snow-elf they made their way back into the house accompanied by their new family member who squeaked with happiness along the corridors until they reached their rooms.



The bath was run and both elves climbed in. Celon seemed unsure but Haldir grabbed him anyway. Not letting the puppy’s head go under, he guided it through the warm water and then held it to his chest. Erestor had read in the book that baby otters were always reluctant to go in water at first, but that their nana’s would drag them in and after about three days they would take to the medium like a second home as if they had always been meant to be there.



A week later, it was Yule. Erestor woke up in Haldir’s arms and little Celon lay sleeping in-between them. “Happy Yule, Meleth,” Haldir whispered, not wanting to wake the baby otter.



“Happy Yule,” Erestor whispered back. “Happy first Yule.”



“This is the best Yule of my life as I am spending it with the one I love,” Haldir smiled and kissed his young husband.



Celon snuffled and squeaked a bit because the elves were awake and shifting position. They were not keeping him warm and so he squeaked his displeasure. Both elves went into the bathroom after covering the baby otter with the covers and turned the bath taps on.



Ah! The elves were playing in the water. Celon sat upright on the bed after throwing the covers off and listened intently. The water had stopped running and so it was swim time! He bounded off the bed, ran through the bathroom door, and leapt into the middle of the bath. It had taken several days but Haldir had taught the otter to swim and now he preferred the water to being dry.



They dried off after the bath, dressed and made ready to go to breakfast. “Celon,” Haldir called. He bent down and whispered in the small otter’s ears.



“What are you up to?” Erestor grinned and watched as the otter came from the living room with a big bouquet of winter roses in his mouth. He bounded up to the dark elf and stood waiting for him to take the flowers from his mouth. In the very centre flower was a sparkling diamond encrusted gold ring. “A forever ring!” Erestor was delighted and pulled it from the rose.



Haldir smiled, “Celon, you must kiss Erestor when you give him flowers.” The baby otter stood up on his hind legs and Erestor bent forward. The puppy kissed him and squeaked because he wanted to go to breakfast and eat his fish and cake.



“Is the forever ring from Celon?” Erestor asked his husband with a coy smile.



Haldir took the dark elf in his arms, “You know that it is from me. Happy Yule.” They kissed and he put the ring next to Erestor’s wedding ring, never to be taken off.



“I bought you a pair of spider skin boots; apparently everyone in Mirkwood is wearing them,” Erestor grinned and handed the wrapped package to his husband.



“I have wanted a pair of these for some time now. How did you get them, meleth? There is a waiting list a mile long for these,” Haldir put the soft boots on and posed in front of the mirror.



“I ordered them when I first met you.” The dark elf smiled. “I knew you would marry me.”



“I got spider skin boots! I got spider skin boots! I got spider skin boots!” Haldir sang to Celon, who by now wanted to be away from the silly elves and eat his breakfast in the Hall of Fire.



Erestor picked the baby up and showed him his new collar. “Happy Yule, to you too, Celon!” He placed the collar around the otter’s neck and they went off for breakfast.



~~oOo~~



It was the happiest of Yule's, and soon it was over. The seasons had come and gone and the winter roses were nearly ready to bloom. Celon was much larger now and liked to play in the river. It was almost surreal, as though both elves saw what was happening, and either by mutual confusion or unconscious device, they were unable to intervene until too late.



The otter sat on the bank as the dusk set in and Haldir called to him. They were going to the Yule eve party and did not want to be late. Celon cocked his ear and sat still on the bank, in spite of Haldir shouting a second time. In the distance came a high-pitched squeak and they watched as the otter turned his head to where the noise came from and slipped gracefully into the water.



“Where is he going?” Erestor asked in his alarm. Both elves ran to the bank and followed him upstream. In the distance, they saw two bobbing heads. “Celon,” the dark elf shouted, but one high-pitched squeak and a flip of the tail and their pet otter was gone, swimming upstream until they could see him no longer. “Do you think he will come back?”



“I do not know,” Haldir said, his face betraying his anxiety. He took Erestor in his arms. “I am sure he has just met a friend and will return soon.”



“We did not bring him up to survive in the wild…” Erestor’s face creased and he buried it in his husband’s shoulder. “I will feel so guilty if anything happens to him.”



“Lets give him half an hour and if he does not come back we will look for him tomorrow; it will be dark soon.” They waited and all was still, silent and cold. “Come on; let us get ready for the party. I do not think he is coming back.” Haldir broke the silence and kissed the top of his husband’s head. “He will be all right and as he was with another otter. I am sure that everything will work out.”



They walked back to the house and attended the party as they were expected to. Neither found their heart in it and Erestor found himself looking longingly out of the windows near the river. That night they went to bed and laid in each other’s arms listening for the tell tale squeaks that would let them know that their otter was home again. They must have fallen asleep because they woke the next morning with Anor’s weak, winter light shining through the windows.



A short walk by the river before breakfast confirmed what they knew in their hearts. Celon was gone; he had left them and he was no longer part of their family. There was no sign of him.



“I cannot feel his presence anymore,” Erestor said, and then for the first time, he let his emotions take over. A single tear dripped over the lashes of his lower eyelid. “I am sorry,” he sobbed. “I feel so guilty; we taught him nothing about how to survive.” Haldir held his husband tight and felt his own tears welling up in his eyes; he wiped them away with his hand lest his husband should see them.



“He has survived the night, meleth. There is no evidence of harm.” Haldir stroked the dark hair. “We have to trust that he will continue to survive.”



They walked back to the house and went for breakfast, trying to put a brave face on the sad event. Afterwards they went back to their rooms and swapped presents. Celon’s small parcel remained unopened and Haldir put it on top of the wardrobe so that his distraught husband would not come across it accidently in the future and become upset.



~~oOo~~



Slowly, Erestor and Haldir learned to push aside their grief and continue with living. The spring came, heralding in the summer and no sign was ever seen of Celon. No patrols came back with news of any otters and all they could take heart from, was that he had swum off in the opposite direction to the human settlements. The autumn arrived and leaves fell from the trees allowing the snows of winter to settle in the branches.



“Let us go and sit outside by the roses and remember those who are gone so that we can have a good day tomorrow,” Haldir handed a thick fur coat to his husband and wrapped a scarf around his neck. “I love you, meleth.” He smiled as Erestor returned the endearment and they walked out to the gardens.



It was Yule eve and the winter roses were in bloom, a sharp counterpoint to the bare branches of the trees. The seat beside the flowers had a small brass plaque inset into the wood commemorating Celebrian who had passed to the west many years before; she had planted the garden the year her daughter was born and it grew more beautiful with every passing year. Sitting down on the cold wood, Haldir picked a flower and gave it to Erestor. “You are more beautiful than this rose, meleth.”



Erestor gave a wide smile, “Thank you. There is nothing here that can compare with you, my only one.”



They sat together talking and in the distance, they saw a small break in the water. A head was poking up out of the still river and was joined by another one. An exchange of happy squeaks and both otters climbed out onto the bank and made their way up to where the elves sat.



“Look, it is Celon,” Erestor cried out and he pointed towards them.



“He has a lady friend,” Haldir said as he smiled,



Both otters came forward and they could see that the female was heavily pregnant. Celon jumped around excitedly and squeaked whilst his partner came forward and let Haldir stroke her head. She seemed quite shy but Celon more than made up for her reserve. He jumped on Erestor’s lap and nuzzled his wet fur into the dark elf’s neck causing him to shout with laughter.



“It is so good to see you again and you are going to be an ada.” Erestor cried as he hugged his former pet. “We were so worried about you. You were very naughty not saying goodbye.” Much laughter, combined with tears of happiness and relief spilled onto the dark elf’s cheeks and he continued to hug Celon, not caring that he was wet through from the water on the animal’s fur.



Haldir stroked Celon’s head. Encouraged by her partner’s joyful reunion with the elves, the female otter jumped up onto the Galadhel’s lap and nuzzled her head against his face while making small squeaking sounds as the blond elf stroked his fingers through her fur.



As quickly as they came, the otters departed. They did not stay very long but it made all the difference to the two elves who watched them running back to the river, squeaking happily as they went. They slid into the water and underneath the surface, then their heads broke water and they squeaked happily to one another before disappearing again.



“He is a wild animal now,” Haldir said. “I think we did all right, he knows how to love and our love was the greatest gift we could have given him.”



“I am happy that he is able to live as he was meant to but it is still sad to see him go,” Erestor said holding his husband’s hand and looking towards the river as if hoping that both otters might still come back. He knew it would not happen and so he turned to Haldir and announced that they should get dressed for the Yule Eve party.



“Ha, that is what comes of marrying a counsellor; they always try to tell you what to do,” Haldir laughed, then jumped when Erestor pinched his bum. “You better start running, sweet one.” He flashed a dangerous smile and watched as his husband tore off in the direction of the house shrieking with laughter and shouted out that he was much younger and could run faster.



~~oOo~~



Unlike the Yule of the year before, this one was a happy event. Haldir had chased his errant husband to their rooms and spent the next hour adoring his body. The party that night was one of the best ever and Elrond congratulated Erestor for his part in organising the events and gave him some welcome news. His counsellor training was complete and in a couple of year’s time, Haldir would be taking his young husband to Lothlórien so that he could train in the ways of diplomacy. The elf lord had decided to fast track the young counsellor because of his ability and brilliance, tempered with a compassion that was not often seen in most who had to apply difficult decisions.



“I always said you would go far,” Haldir said and congratulated his husband with a kiss as he danced with him.



“I did not think that Elrond had even noticed my abilities,” Erestor laughed.



“You have grown much since our marriage and I love you more every day,” Haldir nuzzled his husband’s neck.



“What say you to us leaving early and you can spend the whole night showing me just how much you love me,” Erestor’s wicked grin was too much for the Galadhel. The dark elf shrieked with surprise as Haldir flipped him over his shoulder and announced that he would do just that.



The elves around laughed as Erestor beat his fists on Haldir’s bottom and demanded that he put him down. “My naughty husband has teased me enough and now I am taking him off to spend the whole night teaching him a lesson he will not forget.” Haldir announced to the gathering crowd and laughed. A look of sudden shock passed over his face as he felt a hand shoot down the back of his leggings and a finger roughly poke through his secret entrance.



None of this was lost on the elves who doubled up with laughter; the newly arrived Glorfindel called out that perhaps Haldir was the one being taught a lesson. He put Erestor back on his feet. “That was low,” he said as the dark elf sniggered. “You are in so much trouble now.”



Erestor continued to laugh and held onto Haldir who put his arm around him. Elrond was holding onto himself he was laughing so much and announced to Haldir that he would never get one over on Erestor. “None of us can, so why should you?” He patted the dark elf on the arm and told him, well done. “Now take your poor husband back to your rooms and make it up to him young one.”



They spent the night making love and in the early hours of the morning fell asleep in each other’s arms. The next morning, Haldir lit the fire, moving around stealthily as only a warrior can, and lit an array of candles to give the room a cosy glow. Outside the opaque thickness of the falling snow obscured the mountains in the distance, but that did not stop him from going outside, digging up a small fir tree and taking it back in a tub to their rooms. The tree was decorated with gold and silver flowers and strung jewelled beads, which he had bought from the market, and the tub was covered in a swathe of red velvet. All was silent and the room felt like a cosy warm cocoon. In the bed was the warmest creature of them all, the fount of all love and the meaning of Haldir’s existence. How he loved the sleeping elf and after kissing him so lightly on the lips that he would not wake, he went to his wardrobe and pulled out a large present for his only one.



Snuggling into bed, Haldir put his arms around his young husband, “Wake up my sweet one.”



Erestor stirred and opened his eyes, “Happy Yule…give me my Yule cuddle.”



Haldir held his husband closer and kissed his lips, “I have a present for you.”



“Well I am ready for another round, meleth. I never tire of you,” Erestor said with a cheeky glint in his half-open eyes.



“How can I resist?” Haldir asked and once again he sunk into his husband’s body and loved him as he had the previous night.



They held each other and basked in the warmth of being close. “I really do have a present for you, naughty one.” Haldir motioned to the large present propped against the wall on Erestor’s side of the bed.



“It is a big one,” Erestor grinned, pulled the package up onto the bed, and opened it. Inside were several items. The first was a counsellor’s robe of heavy velvet trimmed with fur and studded with a gold leaf trim. It came with a light ceremonial jewel studded sword. “This is so fine; I will be the best dressed counsellor in the chambers.” He accepted a kiss from Haldir and picked up the next present. It was a gold circlet of the house of Galadriel and Elrond intertwined.



“You will be required to wear that when in Lothlórien,” Haldir smiled. “The other presents are more personal.” There were sapphire braid clasps, hair decorations and a small painting of Celon as a baby.”



“I love my presents. Thank you. You always know what to do to make me happy,” Erestor looked fondly at the painting of Celon and once again silently prayed to the Valar for keeping him safe. I have a present for you too.



He rose out of the bed, went to his wardrobe, and looked around the back of it. Pulling out a large flat package, he wished Haldir a happy Yule. Inside was a hand carved bow, a new quiver packed with arrows, hair and braid clasps, a leather tooled cover travelling journal with mithril inlay containing a compartment for ink and quill, and a puzzle box that had to be twisted round in many directions to reveal the secret compartment inside. “This is a very fine bow,” Haldir said excitedly. “You must have saved all year for this.” He was overawed and felt honoured that his husband would buy him a gift of this magnitude. Haldir was very well off but by mutual agreement, they bought each other presents out of their own money to make it more special.



“I called in a favour; the blacksmith was able to get an extremely large amount of gold at a very favourable price because I negotiated the deal for him and so his wife carved the bow and he inlaid it.” The blacksmith’s wife was a retired warrior and made bows so fine that all coveted them. Glorfindel had arrived in Imladris several months before as the returning hero of Gondolin and one had been presented to him as a welcoming present. He had been extremely impressed with the artisanship, balance and quality of the bow, not least its accuracy when in use.



“It is the finest weapon I have ever owned and it is no exaggeration for me to say that it is probably the best present that I will ever receive in my life,” Haldir ran his hands along the wood and pulled it experimentally. “It is wonderful and you are very clever.”



“Try and open the box because what is inside is even more special,” Erestor grinned. “I will give you a year to get it open and then I will tell you how it is done.”



“I want it now!” Haldir demanded and launched himself upon his husband, tickling him so that he yelled for mercy.



Erestor broke free and ran into the living room. The fire blazed away and the candles threw glowing patches of soft light upon the walls. Outside the snow piled against the windows. “Haldir,” he gasped and looked around. “You have made it wonderful in here.”



Strong arms encompassed the young elf and a kiss was placed upon his cheek. “I did it for you, meleth.”



The rest of the day was spent with friends in contented happiness. No one could open the box and even if they could, none were prepared to risk Erestor’s displeasure in admitting to Haldir that they could. Already the young counsellor was seen as a force to be reckoned with, something that made his mentor, Lord Elrond, very proud indeed.



~~oOo~~



Yule passed and the winter snows melted. Sitting on their favourite seat beside the dying winter roses, Erestor took Haldir’s hand and squeezed it. “The weather will soon change as the buds are already appearing on the trees.”



“They are early. It will be a warm spring, I think.” Haldir took the flask from his bag, gave a cup to Erestor and poured some of the hot-spiced wine from it. “You have the first sip, meleth. You look colder than me.”



Erestor took a sip of the warming liquid and looked over the rim of the cup as he did so. A head broke the through the gently flowing river water and there was Celon. “Look,” he said and handed the cup back to Haldir. “Celon.”



Haldir drank the rest of the wine and watched as the otter came over to them. “I wonder why he is on his own.” Haldir said and hoped that the otter’s mate was all right.



Celon jumped onto Erestor’s lap and then jumped off again. He squeaked at the elves, running off a short way and then looking back at them. “I think he wants us to follow,” Erestor said, and stood up.



They followed the otter to the river and up to a wide curve where the current almost stilled; in the water the nana otter played with her three small babies. Celon squeaked excitedly and jumped in the river.



“How wonderful!” Erestor exclaimed and sat on the ground near the bank so that he could watch the small babies and their parents playing. Haldir sat beside him and smiled watching the tiny otters frolicking in the water. They would be safe because they were still in the house grounds. No men would dare travel this far up river. Once again, Imladris had otters and this time they would do all they could to keep them alive and help them thrive.



After a while, the mother took each baby and disappeared with it under the water. “Their holt is just below this bank,” Haldir said with a big smile and put his ear to the ground. “I can hear them squeaking.”



Celon climbed out of the river and sat with the elves. He nuzzled his head into Haldir’s neck and then climbed on Erestor and licked his cheek. After a few minutes, he jumped into the river and dived underneath. Haldir put his ear to the ground again. “He is with his family, I can hear him.”



Erestor put his ear to the ground. He smiled widely. “I can hear him too.”



They walked back to the house and on the way, Erestor saw a rosebud, more developed than the ones beside it. Haldir took his knife and cut it from the branch, a ray of sunlight reflecting off the forever ring that the warrior had managed to prise from the puzzle box the week before. “It will open out and be as lovely as you, meleth,” he said happily and gave the flower to his husband.



“There is new life everywhere,” Erestor said softly, whilst looking around at the buds on the trees and the snowdrops that had flowered that morning. “I am so happy.”



Haldir held his husband close and looked lovingly into his smiling face. He moved a stray hair away with his finger, kissed him on the lips, then he took his arm and they walked back into the house.



Celon - River