Summary: "I am the scion of kings...that bodes ill for me." One eyebrow arches in a remarkable impression of Elrond’s own. "We Noldor Kings do not, as a rule, end well.".
Beta: Tuxedo Elf
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Notes: Written for Belle for the 2006 Mistletoe in May ficswap... Many thanks to Denise and Fim and Min for organizing such a fun exchange!
Long shadows fall like curses, oppressive and indissoluble things that choke the light. High above the wasted landscape Orodruin's peak appears to pulse, disgorging its bile in shades of blood and vermillion, the oily heat of fire liquefying vision and casting down a feeble, febrile light.
Moving cautiously over uneven terrain, Elrond curses the barren blackness of this place. Even by day, under the scorch of the sun, they are cast in darkness here where nothing grows but the tally of the dead.
Silhouetted by the ruddy fester of the mountain's fell and distant flames, the High King stands with arms akimbo. He does not turn at Elrond's approach, and the Peredhel knows his eyes are fixed on that monolithic rise, on the crags and steep slopes that climb impossibly skyward.
He waits to speak until he feels Elrond at his shoulder. "The end comes," he says, and his mouth hangs slightly open, the words suspended in the stolid air until the grim spectre of his pronouncement is pulled out into the empty space beyond and consumed by the night. Absently, he raises a hand and grazes his lips with his knuckle. Even in the dark Elrond sees every dirt-filled crease of that joint, a map of that hand he knows as well as his own, as it skirts back and forth, back and forth, across the parched terrain of his mouth.
"You do not know this," he answers, and the slow turn of Gil-galad's head regarding him with a dispassionate face is a warning more potent than a narrow glare or a sharp rebuke. To Gil-galad's anger, he is inured; this retreat is cruel. Better his fire than his ice.
"It grows late," he says, his voice sounding sharp and too loud to his ears, "and you are unarmed."
Gil-galad turns his gaze back to the mountain and it hardens there. His mouth closes; his lips twitch. Elrond waits the space of two breaths, three, before he lays a hand on the King's shoulder. The spell of stillness is broken and Gil-galad allows himself to be turned and drawn away by his consort. Their steps are matched as they stride through the camp, the extension of legs and sway of hips and swing of arms: the perfect synchrony of two who have long walked side by side.
Within the pavilion, at least, there is light. The diffuse glow from the lanterns glints an adamantine flicker on the shield standing propped against a chest, picking out the white stars inlaid on silver. But Gil-galad remains pensive. He sinks to his cot heavily, weary bones groaning beneath bruised skin. He props his head on his hands, closes his eyes, and rubs hard circles against his temples. Elrond yearns to be those hands, to lay a healing touch upon that brow, but he keeps his distance. It is the herald's lot to know his master's mind, and he knows Ereinion's mind full well, knows not to come near, knows there is naught to be said to draw away the shadows now lingering on his fair face.
He sits on the chest, takes up his sword, and tends to the blade. It is already deadly sharp, but without anything to occupy his hands his sense of impotence only grows. After a time, the song of the whetstone ceases. Elrond looks up, feeling the sting of the swarf working its way into his skin where the minute slivers will bane him for days. He watches the slow descent of sweat, a single bead loosing itself from Gil-galad's scalp and winding a trail behind his ear and down his neck. Elrond imagines it is his finger tracing that path, clinging to the skin and moving slowly down to the hollow of his throat. When Gil-galad rears his head and irritably slaps the errant drop away, Elrond flinches as if it had been his own hand, his own quest summarily spurned.
"You are staring."
Elrond turns back to his blade.
The extended hush within the tent is a torment, but at length it is shattered by a roar:
"Curse this infernal heat. It blights my mind!"
Gil-galad is on his feet now, pacing. He wore his silence like a heavy mantle and now shrugs it off so forcefully that Elrond almost expects to see the strange, translucent shape of it pooling on the dirt.
"So, wise one, herald mine, it is as I said." He gestures theatrically. "The end comes. Unless, of course, your own vaunted foresight has a different tale to tell."
Bristling, Elrond says nothing, merely makes a noise in his throat and jerks up his sword to sight straight down his arm, down the perfect line of his blade.
"I thought not."
He carelessly grabs the end of Elrond's sword, lifts it, and rests the point against his breast. The herald feels him lean into it, and his arm shakes slightly with the effort of keeping it aloft while Gil-galad's weight bears down. He sees the tip vanish through the blue weave of the King's tunic before meeting the resistance of flesh, muscle and bone. His eyes are locked on Elrond's; they shine a vitreous grey.
"I am the scion of kings." The low voice is deceptively calm, as dangerously devoid of passion as his face in the night. "That bodes ill for me." One eyebrow arches in a remarkable impression of ElrondÕs own. Elrond presses his lips together in a frustrated frown, grinds his teeth together to drown out the galling words, the provocative tone, but Gil-galad, still leaning heavily on the point of his blade, goads him. "We Noldor Kings do not, as a rule, end well."
"Enough!" Shouted, it is a demand. Spoken, it is a plea. Gil-galad rocks back on his heels and steps away and Elrond quickly sheaths his weapon before the fool has a chance to reconsider.
"If I do not laugh, Elrond," he quips by way of explanation, "I will weep." A few steps rearward and he comes to rest against the pole that rises through the center of the pavilion. With his head tipped back against the wood his throat is a pale marble column and Elrond watches him swallow.
"And what of you, friend? The crown will be yours by right."
"I will not take it. The line of the High King ends with you."
"Aha! Clever Peredhel!" A flinty smirk twists his mouth. "He eschews the crown and thus hopes to bend the rule and make for himself a better end!"
Elrond stares at him, and there is no trace of humor in his face, only sober melancholy and pain.
"I would have our people think on the legacy left by their greatest ruler, he whose glorious untroubled realm stretched east to the mountains from the Sundering Sea."
"Leave the poetry for the bards, pen-maen. Your tongue was not made for such subtleties."
That tone, as much as the depth of his stare, is the unspoken signal to commence, and Elrond rises from the chest and moves toward him. They advance and retreat, an ancient and familiar dance. Their hands are ungentle, their movements unrelenting, and neither gives ground. Love for them is something akin to attrition, and Elrond has often thought that one who did not know them would think them adversaries; yet the tight cinch of Ereinion's arm around his back bespeaks all that their furious gestures belie.
Gil-galad's mouth is hot, his teeth sharp against Elrond's collarbone. The skin of his neck tastes of metal and salt, smells of fire, and leaves the grit of ash on Elrond's tongue. His wrist is shackled by a mighty hand and driven to the fierce erection standing between the King's legs. A flash of memory rips through him, a night in Lindon long passed, with too much wine and a young bard's first appearance at the High King's court. His song had begun "O, Gil-galad a mighty spear doth wield, of surpassing length, more hard than steelÉ" and Elrond had choked indecorously on his drink. Gil-galad had ground his heel into his foot to silence him, and he had looked over expecting to find a face full of censure. But Gil-galad's eyes were on the bard. A hand had found his then, beneath the table, and settled it between two kingly thighs, bade it press and knead there until that surpassing length did give the song its due, Gil-galad all the while maintaining his benign gaze on the minstrel.
Now the tightening clasp of those fingers urges him to take that spear in hand again, and his thoughts are returned to this place, this night: a dirty tent with neither wine nor levity within and war without. When he begins to move his hand, Gil-galad releases him to mind their breech-laces and then his palm is full of needful flesh. He strokes hard to hear Ereinion's breath quicken into that hungry pant, hahÉhah, which sounds nearly like laughter. He strokes fast to hear him keen, and keens himself when he is pulled with a matching stroke. They step closer, rut fervidly against each other, but it is not enough. There is not enough time, not enough skin, not enoughÉnot enoughÉnot enough.
Hands scrabble at clothing, tug at breeches that stick to sweaty skin and at tunics that catch artlessly on elbows. When at last Elrond frees the struggling warrior from his filthy vesture, he sees the weal of blood on his breast where his blade pierced the skin and he bends his head to lap it away. There, beneath his lips, hidden behind adamant bone and dusty skin, is the throb and pulse of Ereinion's heart and he lays his cheek there a moment that he might hear the song of it, rum-tum, rum-tum, calling to his own. Their hands pull to that rhythm, their hips sway to it, their breath speeds to it, their blood rushes to it, and then they are cresting, breaking, smothering their cries in a kiss when they surge together, flare together, pure light in a dark place.
Afterward, he knows he should keep still, should just stand close and keep himself attuned to nothing other than that rum-tum, rum-tum song but he cannot. "My heart goes where you go!" His voice breaks. "There will be no other."
Gil-galad turns his face away. "Swear not that oath, Elrond. You have given me your fealty; it is enough."
"There is nothing dearer to me than you, <i>galad-nin</i>. I ask my sire as he sails the sky each night to reveal the stars to me, for I see their white light and think of you."
"More poetry?" He clucks his tongue and jerks his breeches back up over his hips. "In Imladris I believed silver was more to your liking." His words are sporting but they cut deep, prick Elrond's conscience as sharp as the point of Aeglos and just as cold. Elrond's eyes are miserable with betrayal not even yet considered, and his look is at once hurt and sorrowful and guilty. Gil-galad merely kisses his herald's brow and weaves a hand tightly, possessively in his hair. "I need not your foresight when I have eyes to see, Elrond. She will make you a fine wife."
"I will make a poor husband when my love lies with you." The tenor of his desperation is rising, and it is painful to hear. "I give you my heart, Ereinion!"
Swiftly, with violence only barely restrained, a hand is around his throat, murderously tight, and he is shoved hard against the tent pole, its splintering surface biting into the bare skin of his back. Gil-galad's face is pained and pale with anger, and the fey look in his eye breaks Elrond far more surely than the blade of his tongue when he barks out:
"Silence, Peredhel! I will not have it!"
The hand loosens, becomes something that strokes rather than something that chokes, and comes to rest over Elrond's heart. "You forget your place," he says gently, but firmly, and Elrond inclines his head as much to feel the press of their foreheads as to beg Gil-galad's pardon.
"My place is with you."
Gil-galad lays his fingers over ElrondÕs lips and a flare of indignation rises up in him to be silenced like a child. His King returns a certain smile, for he well knows that dark look, the peevishness it portends, and it ever amuses him.
"I am of the deathless doomed to die. Long have I known this, and long have you. I know you have seen."
Elrond wants to look away, to hide the quaver of his chin, but Gil-galad's forehead is still pressed against his own and he is loath to be parted from him now, even by the space of inches, and when he sees that Gil-galad's eyes are wide open and brilliant-bright, he is resolved never again to move. Fingers with dirt-scored knuckles delve in his hair, the thumbs resting warm against his temples.
"I have always been better for having you at my side. If I am a great king, it is because you have made me great. If I fight without fear, it is because you guard my back. IfÉ" He stops himself. "When I fall, I will fall valiantly, because you give me the courage to do so."
"I know not what I will doÉ"
"You will live on. You will love. You will sing me into legend."
Elrond bleats a painful little laugh. "I thought my tongue was not made for such subtleties."
Gil-galad smiles, and in that moment he shines, radiant as a star.
ElrondÕs hand rises slowly, tracing the chafed skin of Gil-galad's lips, fixing the arc of that smile in his mind. It is painful to speak beyond the ache in his throat, and so he whispers. "When you fall, galad-nin, I will sing you so glorious that none could ever forget."
He moves away only long enough to dout the lanterns and then leads them to bed. It is narrow and hard, yet it is enough.
Though he cannot see it now, the memory of their dance is written in the dust, the pattern of footprints declaring that they have stood there, they have loved there, and Elrond wonders if, when all of this has finished, there will be anyone left to claim these memories, to see their mark and say "Not only fell deeds awoke here, but the fairest deeds as well!"
They lay close together, and their loving is strangely gentle, though neither one remarks upon it. And Elrond, who has oft and silently cursed the shadows falling over this harsh land, closes his eyes and prays that the night be long and the light not swift in returning.
Gil-galad was an Elven-king.
Of him the harpers sadly sing:
The last whose realm was fair and free
Between the Mountains and the Sea.
His sword was long, his lance was keen,
His shining helm afar was seen;
The countless stars of heaven's field
Were mirrored in his silver shield.
But long ago he rode away,
And where he dwelleth none can say;
For into darkness fell his star
In Mordor where the shadows are.
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