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Gently Bring the Bit To Bear by Kenaz

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Written for golden_archer, Slashfest 2006.

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Beta: Lady E
Below the mist that drifted down from the mountains and settled over the foothills, the Folde was at peace, the silence in the lowlands interrupted only now and then by the hollow cry of crows and the crystalline creak of frost-stiffened grass bending under Éomer's boot soles.

He blew across his hands to warm them, but it did little good; beneath his cloak and skins he was chilled to the bone. He gazed up at the lightening sky, wishing the sun would hasten its ascent and drive the bite from the air, and yet he wished it would not rise too swiftly, not until his hands were full of more than just an empty bridle.

Over the rise of the hill, grazing alone and far from his herd-mates, Éomer saw what he had come for: the horse he planned to make his own. He was a grey stallion dappled dark like a thundercloud, with mane and tail the color of steel, seventeen hands if he were an inch. Éomer had spent three seasons watching him fly over the grasslands beneath the White Mountains, his long neck stretching and arching as he ran, and had seen him stop dead on some hillock or other and turn to face Edoras, posing proud as a king with his head erect and his tail flowing behind him like a pennant.

With fifteen winters behind him, it was time he had a proper mount. Riding was almost as innate to Éomer as walking; his father, Béma keep his soul, had placed him in his saddle and galloped with him over the length and breadth of the Mark before he could even speak his own name. He had felt the wind in his face and the movement of the horse beneath him and knew it was his rightful place. His father had taught him how to break a colt, as well; all the men of Rohan learned those skills of kindness and discipline else they would not dare name themselves Horselords. But this was no colt he tracked now, and the open grassland no paddock.

Had it been a colt he desired, he could have had his pick from the crop of foals that would drop come spring, selectively bred from his uncle's hardiest stock. But what good was weanling that could not be ridden for years to come, or that despite all breeding and training might prove too late unsound for battle? What Éomer wanted was a warrior's horse, a destrier that could stride bravely at the fore, hooves striking sparks against the stones. After all, was he not sister-son to Théoden King? Through his mother's blood he traced his line to the first of the Éothed, and to Eorl himself, who claimed wergild of Felaróf. It was his birthright to ride a Meara. The Mearas, however, would not suffer themselves to be stabled like ordinary mounts, but roamed the grasslands as it pleased them, and it was no simple matter of ambling up beside one and tossing a saddle on its back. They were hard and prideful creatures, their noble bearing matched by fiery temperament.

Twice, Éomer had approached the big grey, moving as slowly as he could though he longed to charge forward and grab hold of a fistful of that smoky mane, and twice the stallion tolerated his presence. Yet both times he made to slip the reins over his head, the horse had reared and kicked, great plumes of angry breath bursting from flared nostrils, and bolted further afield.

Éomer had passed a fair bit of time standing still as a hare, listening to the susurrations of the wind in the tall grass while the horse returned to his grazing. He drew up again, slowly, patiently, but this time the horse did not indifferently await his approach. He dropped his head and charged like a bull, ears pinned flat, and Éomer barely had time to leap out of harm's way, his heart simultaneously leaping to his throat.

When he regained his breath and what remained of his pride, he found that he was no longer alone on this cursed morning. From out of the foothills a man was making his way slowly overland. He was no peddler, no tradesman, for he had no caravan, nor even any pack upon his back. He was alone and traveled on foot, which in itself was unusual. He appeared to carry no sword, but there was a dagger and a rope at his waist. Éomer rued that he had not carried his spear, but only a hunting knife, and his fingers stretched to dance across the hilt, finding courage in its presence.

"He does not like to be commanded," the man called to him, and his Westron sounded strange to Éomer's ears, though no accent could disguise the amusement in his voice, and Éomer was loath that his failed attempt had been marked by some outlander who now mocked him on his own soil.

"Name yourself, stranger," he demanded, his voice breaking slightly with the force of his words. He inwardly cursed that he still sounded like the boy he was rather than the man he was impatient to become. He stretched to his full height, which fell far short of the other man's. "You trespass on the Riddermark."

The stranger threw back his hood as he came close and Éomer could not help but gasp, for he revealed himself as no Man at all. The luminous skin and peaked ears were not of mortal make; this was an Elf before him. Éomer's fingers tightened around the grip of his dagger. He knew there were Elves in the forest on the far side of the Entwood, but he had only heard the legend and lore and never chanced upon one in the flesh.

"I am called Haldir," the Elf said, "and I hail from Lothlorien, what you call the Dwimordene. I mean no trespass; I am returning from a long sojourn in the South and must cross your land to reach my home. And who are you, rochon neth?"

The foreign words rang strange in Éomer's ear, like a malediction, and he took a wary step back, narrowing his eyes at the Elf.

"What did you call me? Use not your Elf-tongue here on the Mark!"

"'Young rider' I named you," the Elf said, carefully stifling a smile.

The Elf's casual amusement at Éomer's discomfort pricked him. "I am Éomer, sister-son of Théoden King," he blustered, "and I am no youth." He knew though, as he said it, that he sounded childish indeed.

All the same, the Elf Haldir touched his hand to his breast and inclined his head with sincerity. "Greetings, then, Éomer of Rohan, and be not wroth that I name you young. To the Firstborn, one might see one hundred winters and be thought a child still. Indeed, I myself am counted quite young among my people, and I have lived for many centuries."

This claim was not to be believed, yet Éomer knew it to be true. This Haldir looked no older than Théodred, save for the eerie light in his bright blue eyes, and though he might have been a youth among his own kind, he was already far older than Éomer could fathom, and if the tales were true, he would still appear in the prime of life when Éomer's great-grandchildren welcomed their own great-grandchildren. How queer, that one so ancient should linger in perpetual youth. It did not seem right that a creature should not wear the marks of age upon his skin, nor a beard upon his exquisite face. And it was an exquisite face, he noted, though it embarrassed him to do so. It was unnatural that any male should be more fair than a maid!

"I say again rochon neth, that if you wish to ride that horse, you must not command him, but present yourself to him respectfully. It is a great favor you ask of him."

"What would you know of horses, Elf? You have no mount," Éomer grumbled, shaken from his close observation of Haldir's visage by his lilting voice. He had heard tell that Elves had strange magic, especially those of the Dwimordene who served the White Witch. No doubt they bewitched their mounts and bent them to their will by necromancy, not by skill like the Rohirrim.

But Haldir merely laughed, and Éomer clenched his teeth at the sound. Then the Elf whistled shrill through his teeth and the sound of hoofbeats rose. A horse with a tawny hide and dark points walked easily toward them from the tall grass beyond. The dun approached without trepidation, nickering in greeting, and when the Elf held out his hand, the dark muzzle nudged it and snorted. It was a mare of perfect confirmation, with dark legs and a thick mane and swishing tail of a similar dusky hue. She was no Meara, but a fine mount nonetheless. She wore no tack, save a circingle to which some provisions and a hunting bow had been tied, and after a moment of sizing up Éomer, she returned to nibbling on the grass near Haldir's feet.

"What I know of horses, I have known long before your time. I have known horses since before the first days of the Éothéod, little one."

Éomer was abashed. His quick tongue had proved him a fool in front of this alien and ancient creature. The Elf's gaze lingered on him, and it seemed to Éomer that this Haldir did not look at him, but through him, and with eyes more blue and bright than the sky over the Mark at midsummer. It unsettled him, and brought high color to his cheeks. He knew the Elf had taken his measure, and he quietly wished that he might know the whole of it: did he seem just a stupid child, or was there anything of the warrior in him, of a hopeful Marshal of the Riddermark?

"May I?"

Haldir was eyeing Éomer's bridle. Éomer nodded, and Haldir reached to take the headstall. Despite the cold, the Elf's fingers were warm, and the brief touch of them against his own was so startling that he dropped the leather and jerked back his hand. Haldir thankfully pretended not to notice and kept his eyes on the bridle, running those long, warm fingers over the high port of the bit and down its shanks, feeling the leather of the cavesson under his thumb.

"You will not win him with this," Haldir said as he returned the bridle. "No Meara would suffer such a bit in his mouth; it insults him."

Éomer looked at the bit. He thought it beautiful, the shanks in the shape of horse heads and embellished with knotwork etched into the silver by the very same lorimer who crafted bits for his cousin. Even in the early light, it gleamed. He had worked hard for the coin to buy it, and thought it nearly as handsome as Théodred's. How could such fine work be an insult?

The Elf answered as if Éomer had spoken aloud. "Mearas serve the sons of the Éothéod at their pleasure. Perhaps in time you might ride him in this, but as I see it, you have yet to even introduce yourself, and already you would compel him. A bit like this demands, it does not ask, and you are in no position to demand anything of him yet." As he spoke, the Elf took the rope from his waist and measured it out by sight. With a practiced hand, he began to knot the grey cord at intervals, humming as he worked.

Éomer listened to the tune with only half an ear, for the rest of his senses were already engaged. Haldir was a stunning sight, taller than any man of Rohan, even Théoden King, and broad of shoulder, though his limbs were long and fine. His hair was the color of starlight, long and silky as a woman's, but there was naught of feminine softness to him. While Éomer watched, entranced, as Haldir looped and knotted, he saw that the Elf's hands were callused and scarred despite their delicacy. A warrior, perhaps? The Elves were rumored to be fearsome in battle, and yet this creature was so fair to look upon and so mild in his manner that it was hard to imagine him lifting a sword and shrieking a battle cry.

Haldir had finished and held up his work: a simple halter. "Your friend might prove more tractable should you first offer him this. It is good, strong rope, woven by my people, and it will be soft against his skin and not bind him too tightly."

For all its simplicity, it was a thing of beauty, and Éomer admired the swift facility with which it had been formed. It felt nearly weightless in his hands and he wondered at the skill of the Elves, who could imbue something so insubstantial with such strength. It was Elven magic, of course. Some sorcery had been woven into the strands, or perhaps there had been some unspoken incantation lurking in the song Haldir had been humming. The thing was ensorcelled! That would most certainly explain why his thoughts had so readily turned to unnatural paths, to his strange contemplation of the Elf's beauty and the perturbing feelings such contemplation had awoken in him! He dropped the halter as if it had caught fire and took a hasty step back, his hand once again falling to his dagger. He would not draw it, not yet, but feeling the cold metal of the hilt on his palm gave him conviction.

"I need no Elven curse to catch my horse, Haldir of the Dwimordene. I shall master him in my own way. In the way of the Rohirrim."

Now Haldir took a step back, and at last the strange spell was broken. The Elf inclined his head again, his expression almost apologetic as he said, "Of course. I meant no offense." He made no move to pick up the halter from where it lay on the ground between them. "I shall depart, if I may, with your blessings. My route takes me over the river and northward through Fangorn, the Entwood."

Éomer shuddered to think of journeying through the Entwood. Fell things lurked there, and that the Elf should evidence no fear of it seemed further proof that he carried some unnatural magic.

"None shall harm you if you do not draw your weapon." He knew he should thank the Elf for his kindness, and bid him farewell, but he was unnerved by their encounter and his youthful and inexperienced tongue failed him utterly. "Well…" he mumbled, looking down, "safe travels to you." And then he abruptly turned away, fixing his stare to the hillock where the grey stallion idly grazed.

"Farewell, rochon neth," Haldir said mildly as he vaulted on to the dun mare's back. Within moments, they were gone.

Éomer let out his breath when he saw the Elf traversing a hill some distance away, and he pushed the discomfiting exchange out of mind. The sun had crept high in the sky while he had been distracted by Haldir's sorcery; already the morning had grown old. Ruing the lost time, he advanced on the grey horse again. It paid him no mind as he came near, and even sniffed at the bridle when Éomer held it out to him. He spoke in low tones and ran a hand down the long, proud neck. Just the feel of that thick winter coat made him long for the animal more. The stallion bore his touches patiently, and in time Éomer grew confident. He dropped the reins over the horse's neck and cooed to it when it slightly startled. Then, with the bit in one hand and the headstall in the other, he moved to slip the bridle onto the horse's head.

The horse was still for a moment, and then balked, throwing up his head with an angry squeal and tearing the bridle out of Éomer's hands. He reared up and struck out furiously with his forelegs, and Éomer scrambled backward to avoid a deadly kick, tripping over a rock and landing hard on his back. The horse tore off with the reins still around his neck, the bridle dangling down before him. He kicked madly at it, catching the bit with his hoof, and the reins gave way with a snap. The bridle fell in a heap and the horse stomped the hated thing with open malice. Éomer rose and dusted himself off, his face set in chagrinned defeat. He would return to Aldburg without a horse, and with the wreckage of his beautiful bridle to show for his humiliation. He gathered up the broken bit and the muddied leathers and hung them over his shoulder while the horse watched him warily from a distance.

As he walked in the direction of home his eyes fell upon Haldir's halter, still laying abandoned on the ground. He looked at it long and hard.

What harm is there, he thought, in adding one last defeat to this day? Perhaps whatever magic the Elf had worked into the rope would pass to him now. He picked it up, and for the last time, he approached the horse. Even as he did so, Haldir's words returned to him. He must present himself respectfully, for it was a great favor that he asked of this mighty beast.

Humbly, he drew up to the horse who raised his head and snorted, ready to flee. Éomer held out the halter in front of him. "Give me one more chance, friend," he said softly. "I am Éomer, son of Éomund, of the house of the Lord of the Mark. You would do me a great honor if you would carry me in defense of our home as one of your companions once carried my father."

The horse eyed him, and sniffed at the halter. He took a slow step forward and squared himself up with Éomer, whose eyes widened in amazed anticipation. "I have this gift for you," he added. "A kinder one than I offered you before." This time, the horse did not move, and Éomer slipped the halter over his head. Still, the horse stood, and Éomer nearly whooped for joy.

Cautiously, he attached a rein from the broken bridle to the loop beneath the horse's chin and lead him from the shoulder as they walked slowly back to Aldburg. Yes, truly this was a mount who could charge from the vanguard, a horse that would proudly stand beside Snawmana, the great white horse of the King. Here was a horse for a Marshal of the Mark, whose hooves would strike sparks against the stones!

"Firefoot," he whispered, and the grey horse nickered his approval.

Had he cast a glance over his shoulder as he tread homeward, he would have seen on the slope of a distant hill the form of a pale-haired Elf atop a dun horse, watching. But even if he had noticed, he would have seen them through a mortal's eyes, not with the acuity of the Firstborn's gaze, and he would never have known that the Elf was smiling.





"Aware, Oswin! Aware Alric!"

Éomer's voice rang out across the plain, and Oswin craned his neck, saw the foe behind him, and dug his heels into Arod's flank, sending the horse forward with Alric close behind. Further ahead, Garulf and Herubrand drove Orcs at spearpoint away from the Wold, though too late for the outlying farms and fields that had been torched. Once Oswin and Alric reached him, the trio wheeled around and made their assault, driving back toward the muster in a wedge with Firefoot at the fore to run them through on their spears.

Though there had been scant loss of life in this attack, there had been great loss of livelihood, and it marked only the latest in a growing campaign of fell deeds against the Riddermark: Dunlendings invading from the West, Uruk-Hai appearing in the Gap of Rohan, and Orcs waging cruel assaults from all directions. All the while, Théoden King grew frail and more resigned to the darkening of his realm, his mind clouded by the Grima's tainted counsel.

At Éomer's side, Oswin howled in pain and dropped his spear, which was quickly snatched up and turned against him. Arod reared and then galloped away in the direction of the Entwood, taking his wounded rider out of the battle. Éomer and Alric continued to wage vengeance on the Orcs. They might have claimed victory, had not another band emerged from the charred wreckage of the farmstead where they had hidden themselves and converged, roaring, on Éomer and his men.

He heard Herubrand call to him, and when he looked, he saw Garulf mounted behind him. Hasufel was nowhere to be seen. Éomer cursed. With Garulf unhorsed and Oswin injured, they could not take on this band. They would have to retreat to the Folde and return with more men, but that would take two days or more and in that time, the Wold would be overrun.

"There, Éomer! The Entwood!"

What he saw when he turned his head filled his heart with wonder and hope: four grey-hooded riders armed with bows and swords emerging from the dark forest, the front rider mounted on a dun mare.

"What new madness is this?" cried Alric, raising his spear, but Éomer stayed him with a hand.

"Now," Éomer told him, "the tide turns!"






"Nay, Éomer, this is not wise!" Herubrand's whisper was fierce.

"Oswin is in poor shape," Éomer insisted, "and Hasufel is too lame to walk the distance to the Folde even without a rider. The light fades. It is safer to wait here until morning."

"But to follow Elves into the Entwood?"

"Their leader is known to me. We will come to no harm with them."

Herubrand sighed. "I will follow you, friend, but I like it not."

Just under the eaves of Fangorn, they set up camp for the night, and Oswin's wounds were tended by one of Haldir's fellows, who found herbs growing among the tree-roots to draw out the poison and ease his pain. Haldir himself made a poultice for Hasufel and splinted the horse's leg with young yew branches. Éomer watched him slice his palm and let his blood drip onto the tree's roots.

"Repayment," Haldir said aloud, and Éomer flinched, not realizing Haldir had known he was watching. They had spoken little as yet, and Éomer still wished to thank him for his auspicious arrival. But when Haldir rose, he merely smiled mildly and stretched his limbs.

"The odor of Orc-blood clings to my skin. There is water farther in, and I would seek it now if no one has need of me." He arched a brow, and Éomer believed for a moment that he had espied an invitation in it, yet he held himself back, and Haldir turned and disappeared into the dark forest.

The Elves and the Rohirrim watched each other warily until Éomer suggested that Alric and Herubrand hunt some game. Oswin was sleeping, and Haldir's companions had seen to the other horses; there was little for Éomer to do. And so he walked, though he knew full well where his feet might lead him and was uncertain of his own judgment in this. He had not gone far when he heard a tune filtering through the dense copse. He followed the sound, moving as silently as he could, but as he drew close, the humming abruptly stopped, and Éomer went still.

"Come out of the shadows, rochon neth."

Éomer colored at the familiar amusement in Haldir's tone. "I did not mean to trespass. And I am no longer young."

"You do not trespass," the Elf answered as Éomer stepped up to the bank of the deep and narrow stream, "and you will ever be young to me, Éomer of Rohan. Will you bathe? The water is warm, and a balm to the wounded and weary." He disappeared beneath the surface and emerged again at the bank where Éomer stood, water coursing over his body, glistening like a fish. Haldir's eyes were upon him, evidencing none of the disquiet Éomer himself so keenly felt.

"I… I have no cloth to dry myself," he stammered, disgusted that he should falter. He often bathed with his fellows, but Haldir was something different, still every bit as foreign and fey as he had been when Éomer had first made his acquaintance, and it discomfited him as much now as it had then, though he was no beardless child now, but a man grown and blooded in battle fifty times over. It unsettled him more now, perhaps, because now he could identify the source of his unease: broad shoulders, a tapering waist, and the suggestion of what lay beneath the waterline.

"The air is mild," Haldir replied, either insensible of or indifferent to Éomer's discomfort. "The trees damper the wind." He hauled himself up on the bank and wrung the water from his hair, which had turned from starlight to silver in the water. He rose to his feet and Éomer watched him walk, dripping, to his belongings which sat neatly folded further down the bank. He spread his grey cloak over the ground and lay himself down upon it with a slight sigh.

Éomer turned away and knelt, distracting himself from the commotion within him by testing the water with his fingers. As Haldir promised, it was warm, and the temptation to submerse himself was too keen to ignore. He cast a surreptitious glance behind him to discern if Haldir was watching him, but the Elf's eyes were closed, so he stripped quickly and slipped into the water. Almost at once, the fatigue left his back and legs. There were springs deep within the Glittering Caves whose waters were said to contain healing properties, but he had not imagined he would find such relief here.

He squatted until the water rose to his neck and felt his back suppling and releasing its tension. But all the while he soaked and splashed, his eyes were drawn back to Haldir's recumbent form. How beautifully bold and shameless he was! He was perfectly made, limber and lean, with all his muscles carved in sharp relief as if he had been hewn from marble. It was not the way of the Rohirrim for man to covet man, and Éomer's blood had always roused to the female form. But he acknowledged the stirrings of his body now for exactly what they were: lust, and an aching curiosity. He wanted to know if that hard muscle would give beneath his hand, if that soft shaft that lay slumbering at the apex of the Elf's thighs would turn to steel under his touch, how readily bold Haldir would yield to his advance and accept his mastery.

He froze. What vile thoughts were these that possessed him? Surely if it were wrong for a man to covet a man, it were more wrong still for a man to covet an Elf! And he himself had seen Haldir wield his sword and cut down the Orcs that assailed them. He would likely gut Éomer from throat to shaft if he knew his mind. Surely, Evil was at work here in this dark place. He closed his eyes and forced his body to heed his demand to settle, but still his flesh stood strong between his legs, and he silently cursed its disobedience.

From the green banks, a sonorous voice drifted toward him. "What troubles you, friend?"

Despite the heat of the water, a chill ran through his body, his skin puckering into gooseflesh. "I am not troubled!" he answered too quickly.

"The splashing of the water was a pleasant sound to me, but I do not hear it now, so I imagine you are thinking on some heavy thing, for you do not strike me as one who would linger in stillness without reason."

"It is nothing," he repeated, his tone oversharp, and he moved to the bank to reach for his cloak to cover himself before Haldir ascertained his state. But Haldir had pushed himself up to his elbows and was watching him again with that damnable air of curious amusement.

"What?" Éomer barked, his face reddening.

Haldir shrugged. "It is strange to us, the modesty of men. Why is your race so secretive of the body Ilúvatar has given you? A hale, strong form is to us a thing of pride."

"If you revere nakedness so, why is it that the Elves do not run about unclad?" Éomer grunted. He had meant his words to be teasing, but realized too late that he sounded stern and affronted. Curse this queer and unsettling creature that made him ever feel the fool!

Haldir tossed back his head in laughter. "Spoken as one who has never tried to scale a tree in aught but his skins! Nay, Éomer, it is a joy to be unclad, but often impractical. And while I may be more inured to cold than you, there are certain parts that are not shown to their best advantage in the nip of frost!"

Even Éomer had to laugh at this, and it felt good, so very good, to let down his guard if only for a moment. There had been so little cause for laughter of late, he had begun to believe himself incapable of it anymore. His agitation had subsided as well, to his great relief, though he held his cloak close, and moved to dress himself quickly.

"Still you hide yourself from me," Haldir remarked, and Éomer was unsure if it were a question or a statement. He cast a careful look over his shoulders and found the Elf's eyes bright and focused squarely on him. It brought to mind the moment when Firefoot had squared off to him and accepted his halter.

"Have you not seen a Man unclothed before?"

His voice forced a jest, but he was curious. He watched Haldir's bowed lips curl up in a lazy grin before he answered, enigmatically, "I have seen many things."

Did a challenge lurk there, behind the glinting eyes and indolent smile? If so, Éomer would meet it. Tamping down his trepidation, he shrugged off his cloak and bared himself. It was no easy thing, he found, to stand unmoving and feign indifference while Haldir's eyes roved him, appraised him as they had upon their first meeting when he was but a callow lad. Haldir's expression was subdued, and Éomer wondered what the Elf was thinking. As he dared let his own gaze wander, he saw that Haldir's shaft was no longer quiescent in its nest of golden curls, but quickening.

"Forgive me if my body's response causes offense," Haldir offered levelly, looking not the least bit concerned.

Éomer swallowed. "I am not offended."

The lazy smile returned to Haldir's face. "Nay, methinks not."

Éomer did not have to look at the Elf to know that his perspicacious blue gaze rested upon his own shaft, now rising to the intense regard. He dared not move; he did not wish to show himself craven before the mere stare of an Elf, yet what he truly wished to do was a thing so foreign and so wholly disconcerting to him that he wondered if the strange waters had bespelled him.

"Lie here with me, Éomer," Haldir beckoned, and there was a subtle command lurking in his tone. "It would please me to share pleasure with you."

Éomer stiffened at just how easily his desires had been discerned. "Do the Elves not reproach those who lie with their own gender?"

There was the slightest hint of pity shaping Haldir's aquiline features when he answered, "To us, all acts of communion are a thing of joy, especially in these dark days."

Still Éomer hesitated, his lust warring with what he knew to be unacceptable among his own kind. But, he reminded himself, he was not now among his own kind.

"Come to me," Haldir coaxed, extending his hand, and Éomer shivered.

“What is this sorcery?" Éomer whispered roughly. "What binding spell you have cast upon me?”

Haldir retracted his hand and held Éomer shackled in his unblinking stare. "Say not that this is sorcery, for I would only have you come to me in desire, Éomer, not in thrall. If you do not wish this, it shall not be, but I will not have you rise from our pleasure and abase me with scorn because you imagine yourself ill-used."

It was the first time Éomer had seen the amusement vanish from Haldir's face and it sobered him. Nay, he could not deny that this desire, strange as it was, sprang from within himself, and he would face it down here and now.

"I am not thrall to any man," he declared with a confidence he did not quite feel, "nor to any Elf." And before he could regret his course, he went to Haldir, and lay himself down beside him.

His shaft had risen to a thick and hungry spear now, and he rolled so that he lay between Haldir's legs, feeling the Elf's preternatural warmth rising to his skin. He dipped his head to steal the Elf's lips, to possess his mouth roughly. Haldir's mouth opened to him and his tongue sought swift entry. He fisted pale hair in his hands, marveling at its softness, all the while gorging himself on harsh kisses.

Each time Haldir's hands rose to him, Éomer evaded their touch, charging forth in search of whatever unknown pleasure would be discovered here in this strange wood with this strange creature, but determined the Elf would not find him pliant like a maid. Nay, Haldir would know him as the warrior he was! He rubbed himself hard against the hot body beneath him, feeling Haldir's length riding steely and slick against his own. Haldir crooned and Éomer gave him more, the gait of his thrusting hips a wanton gallop over unfamiliar terrain. Yet still Haldir persisted with softer strokes. He did not try to escape Éomer's rough pleasure, though neither did he match its pace. His hands drew long, slow lines down Éomer's back and flanks, and then returned so that a thumb might make a cautious exploration of a nipple, or trace the curve of his ribs. He disengaged from Éomer's hungry mouth to suckle gently on his neck and to exhale a sigh against Éomer's ear.

The more of these light and teasing touches Éomer received, the more he wanted, but the harder he strove, the lighter and more maddening the touches became. He found himself banking the fire of his urges to anticipate where Haldir's fingers would venture next, and to arch his back or stretch his limbs to bring his skin in closer contact with them. And when at last he was rewarded by that most incendiary touch of all, he went altogether still, stunned by the bolt of pleasure that shot through him. Haldir worked him slowly, and he bucked his hips in a silent appeal, but soon Éomer's mind was overtaken by pleasure, and he allowed himself to be rolled to his back that Haldir might touch him more freely.

Haldir slid down his body like a snake, and Éomer watched with no small bit of awe as the Elf did what he had not known one man might do for another and took his shaft in his mouth. There was no sensation more exquisite than being swallowed to the root; Éomer's bollocks grew heavy and tight between his thighs as wet heat pulled him deep. And all the while Haldir's fingers played along his skin with quiet caresses, countering raw lust with sweetness unlooked for. Éomer had not known it could be so; he had assumed that a coupling between males must be harsh and fast, but now he found that greater pleasure was to be had in softness, in being gentled by this magnificent warrior. His breath flew from his lungs in jagged gusts and suddenly his end was fast upon him and he erupted with a wild cry in Haldir's mouth.

He had barely a moment to catch his breath when Haldir crawled up to him and pulled him into a kiss. He went rigid, expecting to be revolted, but found only the merest hint of lingering bitterness, a strange and unidentifiable brine that seemed to vanish as their kiss deepened. Now Haldir's composure was utterly flown, his own need seemingly sharpened by Éomer's release, and he grasped Éomer's hand and pulled it to his erection. Haldir's shaft filled his palm, hard and sleek as the rest of him, and if it did not match his own for girth it surpassed it in length. He fisted it as he might have done for himself, varying the rhythm until he found the touch that sparked the most visceral reaction, and Haldir's response spurred him anew. He found himself wanting to do that which he had never before considered, to repay his pleasure in kind.

Ignoring his apprehension, he bent his head to the task, determined to pursue its end with the same care and vigor Haldir had shown him. Haldir's song of pleasure—for it was a song, a joyous paean to rapture— drove him on, and he took the Elf's shaft deeper and deeper as Haldir writhed and sang beneath him. He could feel Haldir's entire body stiffening as his climax grew near, and in that moment, all fear vanished and was replaced by an irrefutable need to hear and see and feel and taste Haldir's release. The cry that spilled forth from Haldir's lips as he spent was sweet music even as his seed was hot and bitter.

Yet soon, with the strange taste still fresh on his tongue, Éomer turned grave, and felt within himself an unaccountable despair. He turned stormy eyes to Haldir, who appeared utterly serene, a little grin playing on his lips.

"Well, then. You have successfully broken me. It must please you to know that a simple mortal proved no match for the wiles of Elf-kind."

Haldir sat up abruptly and cocked his head, his face alight with confusion and that strange hint of pity Éomer had seen before.

"Is that what you believe? That I have broken you? Have you learned nothing from Firefoot? You did not break him, but he came to trust you as one who treats him with gentleness and respect. He bears you upon his back as a sign of loyalty, not as an act of submission. And so I thought it was with us. I wished to see you in ecstasy, my friend, not in submission."

He looked so distraught that Éomer was ashamed for his reaction. "Forgive my insult, friend. It is only that such acts are…" he sought for a word that would not bring offense. "Such acts are foreign to my people, and what we have done is not a thing I ever before thought of seeking."

Haldir offered a sympathetic shrug, and his mischievous grin returned. "These are strange times, and we must seek allies in strange places."

"So you do not think me weak?"

"Nay, Éomer. You are not weak. I see strange tales are woven about you, rochon neth, and your strength and loyalty will bear you safely through the darkness and onward to your fate."

He rose then from his cloak and offered a hand to pull Éomer to his feet. "Come. Let us dress and return to your men. I would not have Herubrand think that their captain was waylaid by evil in the Entwood." Their hands remained caught in a warm clasp for some time, and at the last, Éomer found his own smile mirroring Haldir's gentle grin.

They passed a quiet night beneath the eaves of the forest, and by morning, Oswin's wounds seemed not so dire and he declared himself fit to ride. Hasufel, too, had recovered his stamina, and when Garulf pulled the poultice from his leg, the laceration seemed almost healed, and there was no sign of Orcish poison there.

"Thank you for sharing your wisdom," Garulf told Haldir with a bow of his head, no longer wary of the ancient warrior. "If I have my way, I will teach the whole of the Éoherë how to craft an Elf-splint."

They broke their camp and there beneath the eaves they parted ways, the Rohirrim headed south for the Folde, and the Elves turning to the North to return through Fangorn to their home beyond.

"Keep safe, friend," Éomer exhorted as he clasped Haldir's forearm in a warrior's grip. He met the Elf's shining eyes with his own firm gaze.

Haldir's smile widened, and the sight of it was warming. Éomer felt the Elf's hand tighten on his arm. "And you as well, rochon neth."

The Rohirrim mounted, and at Éomer's call they moved out. The Elves had mounted as well, save Haldir, who stood with his hand on the dun mare's withers and watched the Rhorrim ride away. They had not yet traveled out of earshot when Éomer pulled up on Firefoot and turned back to the forest. He held up his spear in salute and called out to his friend who stood shadowed by the twisting trees.

"Farewell, Haldir! May you always find allies in strange places!"

And though Éomer could not see Haldir's face in the wood with his mortal eyes, he chose to imagine that the Elf was smiling.
Chapter end notes:
A/N: Felaróf was a Meara known as the Father of Horses, and it is said that he was brought to Middle-earth by the Vala Oromë. Felaróf was captured as a colt by Léod, ancestor to the kings of Rohan, and when he was grown, Léod tried to ride him, but Felaróf threw and killed him. Léod's son, Eorl the Young, tracked Felaróf down and demanded that the horse offer his freedom as wergild for his father's death. The horse submitted. By tradition, only the royal line of Rohan—those descended from Eorl—could ride the Mearas.

"Snawmana" is Rohrric for Snowmane, the horse of Théoden.

The title of this piece comes from a passage in Xenophon's On Horsemanship, which is one of the earliest treatises on horsemanship in Western literature:

If you wish to pull up a spirited horse when breaking off into a quicker pace than requisite, you must not suddenly wrench him, but quietly and gently bring the bit to bear upon him, coaxing him rather than compelling him to calm down. It is the long steady course rather than the frequent turn which tends to calm a horse.