July 2438 in the Third Age of Middle-earth
It had rained earlier that afternoon and now the air felt as hot and moist as a lover's mouth. Elladan shifted uneasily on his horse's back. It was so quiet. He could hear the bright chink of his chain mail, the swish of his horse's tail, the crunch of the animal's hooves. On the left, the vast lake stretched out to the horizon, grey water blending into grey sky, small waves gently caressing the pebbly beach with a shushing sound. Oozing marshlands lay to his right, filled with scrubby brush and cattails, bordered by the darker shadow of Mirkwood in the distance. Mirkwood. He shivered knowing that as soon as they had resupplied at Esgaroth, their path would lie under its terrible black roof.
He rode on the edge of shadow. His lot in life: existing between boundaries, neither wholly of elfkind nor human; not a complete soul but the dark mirrored half of one; not to love normally, but all his longing and desire bent on that better part of himself, the one who was forbidden to him.
The peredhel turned to look at his brother who rode behind, noticing with concern how heavily Elrohir sat his mount, shoulders slumped, looking as weary as Elladan felt. It had been a long and dangerous journey through the northern wastes. Long but profitable. Father would be pleased with the information they had gathered. Pleased with the news, but not its import. Evil was stirring again. Orcs were gathering in the Grey Mountains, along with other creatures, even more dreadful.
Elladan sighed. All he wanted right now was a good dinner that he didn't have to cook and a soft bed. A soft bed. Elladan's eyes lingered on the lithe form of his twin. Perhaps later, when they had rested . . . . No! He shoved the thought from his mind. They had promised each other.
Elrohir looked up, met Elladan's eyes, and the corners of his mouth twitched upward into a brief smile. "So, where is this curséd town, brother?"
"Near. Maybe around the next corner."
"I'll confess I'm looking forward to some comforts. It's been a long road," said Elrohir.
"You've read my mind, as usual." Elladan smiled. "Tell me, which comforts do you miss most?"
Elrohir clicked to his mount and trotted up to ride abreast of Elladan. "Fresh fruit, Gondorian brandy, and a hot bath," he said. "All of which would be quite welcome right now."
"Yes, those things would be sweet. Six months in the wilds is a long time." Elladan paused. "I was thinking of something else as well. My comfortable bed in Imladris."
Elrohir lifted a fine dark eyebrow. "I remember it well," he said softly. "Cool, fresh linens in the summer time, piled with down-filled blankets in the winter. When the curtains were drawn round, it felt hidden and secure, a place of refuge."
"And pleasure," said Elladan. He looked into Elrohir's clear grey eyes and saw there a yearning akin to his.
"Pleasure is too simple a word for it. Ecstasy is closer to the mark," said Elrohir. He shifted his gaze away. "I thought we weren't going to talk about this any more. We made a promise to each other."
"What if we both decide to break the promise?" Elladan asked. "Here we are far from prying eyes. There is no one to suspect. We have been good for far too long." He reached over and grasped Elrohir's arm and their horses halted. Elladan stared into his twin's eyes.
"Elro, meleth, my soul aches for the completion that only you can provide," Elladan said in a rush.
"It is forbidden," said Elrohir. "You know that."
Elladan felt stung. He had opened up the wound again, only to have Elrohir pour salt into it. He studied his horse's neck.
Elrohir looked at him, then he put his hand on Elladan's thigh, stroking it gently. "I confess that I too feel desire. It is a constant struggle to deny it," he said softly. "We are too alike, you and I."
"Not enough alike, apparently," Elladan said, "if you can resist and I cannot."
"You have resisted. In all the time we have traveled together, this is the first you have broached the subject, though I know it burns in your thoughts."
"Does it burn in yours, brother?"
"You know that it does. I feel what you feel. Sometimes I can almost hear your voice in my head. Or maybe it's my own, I can't tell the difference. If you are not near me, I feel utterly lost. But, you know the consequences as well as I."
Elladan took a handful of Elrohir's hair and pulled it slowly and repeatedly through his fingers. "I cannot help the way I feel. You are the other half of my soul." He bent forward and kissed Elrohir's forehead. "But for your sake, I will bind up my desire and try not to speak of it again."
"We could find a third," Elrohir suggested. "As we have done before. Someone we can connect through."
"Do you think that likely, in this place?" Elladan snorted. "Naught but ignorant, unwashed men, occasional misshapen dwarves, and forbidden wood elves. You may recall that a while back, Thranduil threw us out of his palace for that very offense."
Elrohir laughed heartily. "Oh yes, I remember how furious the king was when he discovered that we had seduced his nephew." He ran a tongue across his lips. "The elf had a lovely body as I recall. By the Valar, no one vents his anger like Thranduil!"
"Do you think he left a single glass unbroken at that banquet table?" Elladan chuckled. "For a while there I thought he might kill us. But meleth, that night was worth it."
"His skin was so smooth and white. His lips like sweet berries," sighed Elrohir.
"Watching him thrust inside you . . . ah . . . it was as if I were doing it, myself," said Elladan. "When I took him, oh gods, he was so tight. The very thought makes me hard. His moans were like rain, and through his heat, I could feel you. The distance between us evaporated. It was as if it were me inside you, making you squirm and cry as I filled you. I felt your pleasure build, your resistance breaking down as you accepted me, as the wings of your soul embraced me until there was no longer a 'you' and an 'I.' It was just us together. The way it should be, forever and always."
He heard Elrohir's quick gasp.
"You feel it also, don't you, meleth?" Elladan said as he ran his thumb across his twin's cheek and brushed it over his parted lips. Elrohir closed his eyes and kissed Elladan's thumb, his breath quickened and audible.
"You are my only love, pen vain," Elladan sighed. "It doesn't feel wrong when we are together. It feels natural. It feels right. Won't you reconsider?"
Elrohir opened his eyes and they were bright with moisture, his cheeks flushed. So beautiful, Elladan thought.
"I know it is wrong, brother," Elrohir said slowly, "but then, what's one more sin among many."
"Uthaes nîn," cried Elladan in delight, and leaning over, grasped him by the back of the head and pulled him into a hard kiss. His lips, so long denied, tasted sweet.
Elrohir released a shuddering moan as his lips moved in concert with his brother's. He opened his mouth and accepted Elladan's supple tongue. Elladan devoured him, pausing momentarily to come up for air and then fastening his mouth back onto his again. Elladan's blood was racing, the heat gathering in his groin. Finally they pulled away, breathing hard and looking greedily into each other's eyes.
"Once again, I am proved helpless against your allure," said Elrohir.
"No, it is I who cannot resist yours. Come here again," cried Elladan. And Elrohir threw his arms about his twin, their mouths crushing together, their hands clutching at each other, roaming up each other's thighs. Elladan's horse shifted beneath him, breaking them apart.
"Gods," said Elrohir, "I curse all this armor." Grinning, he reached down and adjusted his crotch. "A taste . . .," he said.
"Of the banquet to come," laughed Elladan. "Let's find this benighted town." Elladan rocked his seat and his horse broke into a canter.
"Let's hope they have a decent inn," called Elrohir, his horse keeping pace with Elladan's, "and that the beds aren't full of fleas."
"Ever the optimist," said Elladan.
When the town of Esgaroth finally came into view, it did not look promising and that impression increased as they drew near.
A long row of shabby, unkempt buildings bordered the edge of the town, which was built on pilings out over the lake. A guard at the gatehouse by the bridge explained that there were no stables in town for their horses, but they could be cared for at a stable further down the shore. "We travel by boat for the most part," he'd said.
So, they had to take the horses down to the stable, then trudge back, carrying their saddlebags over their shoulders. Both were hot and miserable by the time they crossed the bridge into town. The few people in the streets stared at them in an unfriendly fashion. The place seemed sad and deserted.
"I don't remember hearing that Esgaroth was so desolate," said Elrohir, hefting his saddlebags higher on his shoulder.
"You're right. They don't seem to have fared well since the dwarves left Erebor to go to the Grey Mountains," remarked Elladan.
The inn the guard directed them to was no better: the rooms small and stuffy, the beds mere cots. But the innkeeper seemed anxious to please and promised them a bath.
"You can wash first, brother," said Elladan when two men appeared carrying the tub and a large copper pot of hot water. "I'll go and see about supper."
"And Gondorian brandy," said Elrohir.
"Unlikely, meleth, but I'll see what may be found."
Elladan went down the hall and entered the darkened, smoky common room. He coughed once and looked around. About two dozen men sat at tables, drinking from tall ceramic tankards, smoking short-stemmed pipes, and playing cards. The buzz of conversation stopped completely when he entered and he could sense a sudden greedy energy in the room. He smiled to himself, wondering how he might use it to his advantage. He inclined his head slightly in the direction of the group and then went up to the bartender.
Volnulf had spent the entire afternoon idly drinking with the boys and feeling exceptionally bored. The money was running low, although he figured he could intimidate the innkeeper into providing free service once it was gone. And the boy he'd taken in the last raid was no fun at all anymore; just stared fixedly into space. High time he took these worthless sacks of filth out on another raiding expedition. It's was just that it was so stinking hot. Easier to sit and get stewed.
At that moment a stranger walked into the room. Volnulf felt his jaw drop open, realized he must look foolish, and shut it with a snap.
He was an elf, that much was obvious; his beautiful beardless face, delicately pointed ears, and the long braided hairstyle betrayed it. But unlike any elf he'd seen, this one's hair was black. He was dressed in rich but travel-stained garments: a dark green cloak, under which could be seen a green surcoat, the silvered rings of the mail shirt, the long scabbard of his sword, and the sleeves of his embroidered green and tan tunic. He wore a diamond stud in one earlobe, fingerless black leather gloves, and high boots. He was very tall, with broad shoulders and a slender waist and he walked with an easy, athletic glide. But there was something more, something indefinable, a magnetism that caused Volnulf's cock to twitch.
He wasn't bored any longer.
The elf nodded in his direction and then proceeded to the bar.
"Now that's the prettiest thing, man or woman, that I've ever seen walk in here," Volnulf said loudly to Royd, one of his companions. The other men turned to look at him.
"Be careful, he'll hear you," Royd replied.
"What does that matter?" Volnulf said. "There's one of him and twenty-two of us."
"I don't care. He looks, well, dangerous," Royd whispered. "Like he knows how to use that sword."
"You are a woman, Royd, as I've always said," snorted Volnulf. "We are more than enough for one delicate-looking warrior. You can content yourself with the young vermin of nearby villages, I'm going after this pretty one." He locked eyes with various members of his troop. "Be prepared to back me up, if it comes to that."
He got up from his chair and kicked it aside, then swaggered over to the bar where the elf was picking up two mugs of ale. "A two-fisted drinker, are ya then?" he said.
The elf raised an eyebrow. "Is it your custom, mortal, to speak in such a familiar manner with strangers?" he said.
His voice was extraordinary: a clear, musical baritone with a lilting foreign accent that left no doubt, if indeed there had been any, as to his elven heritage. It sang its way straight to Volnulf's groin, even as it intimidated him. For a minute he felt unsure, humbled to be in this lordly presence. But pride and lust quickly overcame him.
"This is my place, Elf, and I'll be familiar with whoever I please," he said.
Muffled snickers were heard about the room. The elf smiled in a grim way that should have raised a warning if Volnulf had taken heed.
"There may be some who would teach you otherwise," the elf said and raised his glass. Then he said something in that liquid language of theirs and took a drink.
Volnulf decided the situation warranted a more civil tack. He went to the nearest table, pulled out a chair and sat down. "Sorry I spoke to ya that way. Can I buy ya a drink to make up?"
"You may," the elf replied turning to face him and leaning against the bar. "You wouldn't happen to have any brandy, would you? If so, I would be in your debt."
"Brandy," snorted one of his men, "what does he think this is, a lord's palace?"
Volnulf turned and glared at him. "It just so happens, Tor, that I do have some. And since you opened your hole, you can fetch it. It's in the cabinet in my room." He held out a key. "Be quick about it or I'll cut off your nuts."
"Charming," said the elf. "I should address all my warriors in that manner. It might motivate them."
Tor rose unsteadily and headed out the door.
"Elf, I invite you to come sit with me. We don't often get visitors of your, uh quality, in this town. Tell me your name and where you are from," said Volnulf striving his utmost to be courteous.
Elladan looked at him for a long moment and then came and sat on a chair across the table from him. "I am called Elladan," he said. "And I come from a place west of the Misty Mountains."
"A fair piece from here. What brings you to our town?"
"A desire to travel and see the sights of Middle-earth. And your name?"
"Volnulf, son of Frelof," he said. "Leader of Esgaroth's Liberators. And if you're traveling for pleasure, you are hardly in the right part of the world. This place can be very dangerous." He leaned back in his chair. "But you are in luck. We can offer you protection from certain, shall we say, unfortunate incidents. And if you are in the mood for pleasure, we can surely show you some."
The elf laughed. "I hardly think so," he said. "My tastes are rather specific."
Volnulf's mind was wandering. He imagined bending the beautiful stranger over the table and ripping off his leggings to reveal luscious round buttocks. The man's pulse quickened at the thought of what he would do next.
Tor arrived with a round bottle tucked into the crook of his arm. He stumbled as he reached the table and set the bottle down hard so that the amber liquid sloshed within.
"Fool," cried Volnulf cuffing him. "Get some glasses." He turned to the elf. "Forgive him. He doesn't know any better. Peasant family."
The elf raised an eyebrow as Tor went over to the bar and retrieved some tumblers while muttering something under his breath.
"It would seem," said the elf, mischief lighting his eyes, "that he knows something of your heritage as well."
"What!" growled Volnulf.
"You heard what I said?" Tor incredulously addressed the elf.
"I hear most things," replied the elf.
Volnulf lurched to his feet and grabbed the glasses from Tor. "I should kill ya where ya stand," he barked. He came back and poured the brandy for himself and the elf.
The elf picked up the glass and hesitated, bringing it to his nose and sniffing. A cautious one, Volnulf thought. He winked and then emptied his glass with several swallows, wiping his bearded lips with the back of his hand.
Elladan took a sip of the brandy, then his face changed. "Not bad," he said. "Where did you acquire this?"
"Er, best ya don't know," said Volnulf.
"Could I buy it from you?"
"Perhaps," Volnulf looked slyly at him.
"What's the price?"
"Ya don't want to know," laughed one of the men in the back.
Elladan glanced at them, thinking that they looked for all the world like starving hounds waiting for a live rabbit to be thrown into their midst. He shifted to the edge of his chair.
It would seem he had fallen in with a bunch of brigands. The peredhel wrinkled his nose at the smell of them. The leader was broad and muscular with red hair and a dark brown beard. He had a long scar across his neck and a tooth missing in his lower jaw. His loathsome smile revealed his upper gums. A smoldering violence existed just under the surface.
Elladan thought it might be wise to acquire his twin's brandy and be gone quickly to his bath and the eagerly anticipated evening of pleasure.
"The price," mused Volnulf, rubbing his hand over his chin. "Probably not more than you have to give. Though perhaps not something you care to bargain."
"I'll give you five silver pennies," said Elladan, reaching for the bag at his waist. "That's more than fair."
"Your money isn't what I want, Elf," grinned the brigand reaching under the table and clamping his hand down on Elladan's thigh. "Although I may take that as well."
In a sudden movement, Elladan tossed the rest of his brandy in Volnulf's face. As the man cried out and flung his hands to his eyes, Elladan sprang out of the chair, knocking it over, and the next instant had his knife pressed against the ruffian's throat. The other men jumped up and advanced on him, brandishing various weapons.
"I should teach you some manners," Elladan said in a deadly voice. "Perhaps I'll add another scar to your neck, one you won't recover from quickly."
"It was a joke. I meant no harm, Elf, Elladan, I mean," rasped Volnulf, his arms flailing.
"Somehow I doubt your word," said Elladan. "I will take my leave now. Don't make the mistake of trying to hinder me." He drew his sword and began to back out carrying it in one hand and the long knife in the other.
"Don't just stand there, you cowed dogs," cried Volnulf, "get him!"
The men looked at each other, hesitating. Volnulf struggled to his feet and pulled out his own knife, which he flung at Elladan.
The peredhel watched its flight and ducked to the side. The knife struck the bar.
"I'll disembowel each of ya myself if ya don't stop him," cried Volnulf.
Suddenly, twenty men attacked at once and Elladan was beset on all sides. He threw his knife and it hit a man right in the eye. He began wielding his sword two-handed, killing another man as he attempted to move steadily toward the door.
"Back him up to the wall," yelled Volnulf. He pushed through the men and barred Elladan's exit. The bartender tossed the brigand a sword and he held it ready.
Elrohir! A little help needed here! Elladan thought desperately.
The men formed a circle around him and Volnulf advanced, making little cutting motions in the air. "Before, I might have let ya go once we were done," he said, "but now you'll wish for death before I deal it out to ya."
"Men have such an exaggerated notion of their prowess," said Elladan.
Volnulf lunged for him and Elladan knocked the blade aside, then countered with a swift series of thrusts and parries. The force of his attack moved the brigand slowly toward the door. Another man came at Elladan from the side and he fought both of them, then a third. He found himself backed up toward the far wall again. Four of them now swung swords at him. He whirled and punched one in the face as he cut another on the arm. All of them were shouting now. The din and smell were overwhelming. Worse than a bunch of orcs, he thought.
"Well now, brother, I see you've made some new friends," said a melodious voice.
Elladan looked up gratefully to see his twin standing in the doorway, his sword drawn. And oh, he was beautiful! He was wearing only his leggings and his boots, his muscle-sculpted chest quite bare, his damp hair slicked back away from his face. His eyes glittered with soft malice.
All the men turned around to look. Volnulf caught his breath. "By the gods, there are two of them!" he cried. "What sorcery is this?"
Elladan took advantage of surprise and leapt up on a nearby table, running across the top and jumping from one to the other, until he was clear of most of the ruffians. With a shout, he launched himself at two nearest the door. Elrohir was fighting off the rest of them as Volnulf shouted, "Don't let them escape!" But the men were drawing back, clearly out of their league against the two trained warriors.
Elladan found himself fighting next to his twin. "Well, here we are again," he panted. "It's about time you showed up."
Elrohir kicked one of the men in the chest and sent him flying into a chair, which broke from under him. "You know, brother, I did have to take time to put something on. Unless you wanted me to rescue you stark naked."
"I always want you that way!" laughed Elladan. "But I suppose I'll make concessions to practicality." They reached the open door and attacked with renewed ferocity until the men shrank back from them.
Volnulf moved forward. "So, do I have to do it all myself, then?" he growled.
Elladan sliced his sword across Volnulf's cheek. The man gave a great cry and put his hand to his crimson-stained face.
"Now we make a run for it," Elladan said.
"Right behind you, brother," said Elrohir as they bolted through the door and ran down the street. They could hear Volnulf roaring with rage behind them.
"Which way?" asked Elladan.
"The pier," said Elrohir. "Come on!" They pounded down the wooden planks of the pier, reached the end and turned to look behind them. The crowd of angry men, who had grown by about a dozen more, were following them, shouting and waving sharp objects.
"Oh, this is not good," said Elrohir. "Warg's teeth, brother, what did you say to get them so upset?"
"Nothing. I was just trying to get your curséd brandy. This is all your fault, you realize."
"You must have done something. I know of no one else who elicits such strong emotions," Elrohir said. "You are a genius. There's nothing for it, brother, but to go for a swim."
They both dived off the pier into the lake and swam underwater as far under the town as they could. Finally, lungs bursting, they rose to the surface, hiding in the darkness between several large, algae-covered pylons. There they waited in silence a long time. They heard shouting and saw canoes plying the water before finally all was quiet again.
"What now?" whispered Elrohir.
"We should wait until it gets darker and then see if we can get our horses."
"This is not how I envisioned our evening together," said Elrohir. "Standing chest deep in cold water, so romantic, brother. At least we both got a bath." He paused, then said, "Perhaps it's just as well."
Elladan snorted in reply. "Now what?" he asked. "We don't dare go back to retrieve our bags. Even if we could sneak in and get them, we have no way to get the supplies we need."
"I suggest we throw ourselves on Thranduil's mercy," said Elrohir. "It's about a day's ride from here and there's nothing else. There's no hope of getting home if we can't get re-equipped."
"Oh gods," groaned Elladan. "Not Thranduil."
"Surely, he won't remember what happened before. That was two hundred years ago."
"Elves have long memories," said Elladan, "especially Thranduil."
Elrohir brightened. "You know, Elladan, it may not be all bad. Remember that imp, Thranduil's youngest son? He will be full grown now."
"Ah, yes, he was promising even then."
"I guess we never learn, do we?" laughed Elrohir.
"Not at all," said Elladan. "Well, it seems dark enough now. Ready?"
"Lead the way, brother," said Elrohir.