Elladan shuddered at the wetness the most recent rains had brought. The weather grew foul as soon as the ship entered open ocean and it remained that way for long, mind-fatiguing days. The waves crushed against the heavy ship, rocking it from side to side in a nauseating rhythm. Elladan's worried eyes searched for his twin, who had once again abandoned their shared bed before the break of dawn. He finally spotted the motionless figure. Elrohir stood at the edge of the lower deck, away from the hardened eyes of the silent crewmen, his hands angrily clutching the wet wood of the darkened railing. "Elrohir," Elladan asked cautiously when his twin did not respond to his first call, "it is merely a storm. Not even a particularly nasty one at that. Come inside, it will pass soon enough. The water is calm, and the sky will lighten as the day progresses. You will see."
"I want to leave this land, Elladan."
"Granted," said Elladan, gently massaging Elrohir's chest, "sailing is not our calling and I despise it, but we have but a few more weeks of this torture left. Before you know we will see one of the most lustrous cities in Middle Earth! With jewels, camels, and finest beauties crowding the streets! Come now, where is your sense of adventure?"
"You don't understand," Elrohir removed his brother's hands. "This land breathes with evil, in all of Arda there is so much of it, it can overshadow the light. Sauron's defeat was but one victory, but the struggle will never cease. The evil is in this land's nature, it lives in those who inhabit it. There will always be darkness, there will always be danger, fear, and pain."
"Oh why must you be so grave and pessimistic Elrohir! I swear this sort of demeanor makes me wish I was a man! They are so industrious, never sitting around and contemplating the future of the world while writing useless poetry and whimsical music! Our spirits are vigorous, our bodies are strong, we have loyal allies and sharp weapons. Let the evilness come, we'll show it! Do you have hot blood or cold water running in your veins?"
"I am weary of waking up each morning knowing that someone else I love may die that day. I am no coward Elladan, with you by my side I killed armies of Orcs with my own hands, and what good does it ever do? For each one you kill two more are spawned by Mordor muddy soil and they come at you with rekindled vengeance. When this is over, I want to leave Middle Earth with Ada. Forever. I want us to live in a place where there are no more Orcs or Uruk-hai, no Barlogs, Easterlings, no Haradrim witches. I want to be reunited with Nana, to rest my head on her gentle chest and spend the moonlit nights exchanging poetry with her, as we did when we were children. I miss the years when blood was not yet staining my hands."
Elladan gently placed his hands around Elrohir's waist, bringing the wet and trembling figure into his hot embrace. He bit down his lip, trying to fight the bitterness that sipped into his mouth. He knew it for months now. Elrohir wanted to sail West and deep in his heart Elladan understood he could not follow. Or could he? He strained to imagine that life of bliss his brother spoke of with such ardor. In words it sounded pleasing, but what would it be like in practice? That life without danger or fear, without excitement of victory and adrenalin of war? In Arda each day was precious, each hour, each minute was a pearl to be treasured, precisely because it could be the last. His life had rhythm and purpose here, he had many dear comrades among men, and they held great reverence for his being. Maybe that was it, that intimate interest Elladan had in men and their affairs. He was not like his elven peers, who for the most part removed themselves from the human world. On the contrary, he often preferred the company of the rambunctious men and he fit in perfectly among them. Could he forsake such relationships for the promise of some land from which he would have no escape? Where each boring day would drag on without events or meaning for the rest of eternity?
"Let us go inside," he said quietly, "the rain is growing stronger."
"You won't sail West, Elladan, I know it. I always knew it! You will remain behind, shrivel up and die like an old rat! You will abandon your people for one last chance to share your days with men and you will rot with them, rather than blossom with me. Damn you for this! Have you no regard for Nana who is waiting for us. For you?"
"Oh my dearest brother, I see what this is about. Don't we all wish for things to just return to where they were when we were elflings?" Elladan exclaimed. "Fleeing to Valinor will not alter what has come about! Our family is fragmented forever Elrohir! And it will never be as it was before, when the two of us and our dear sister slept in our parent's bed, listening to them sing! Arwen will die, Nana in all likelihood will grant her hand in marriage to another, and Ada, well, if his pathetic wish is granted, he will become a tolerated concubine in the High King's court! And we? We will just be in the way of everybody, hindering our parents from moving on. Is that what you want?"
"So you chose death then." Elrohir's eyes grew moist. His voice sounded quiet.
"I made no decisions on this matter and I promise I will reconsider it," Elladan forced a nonchalant smile, "I will, but not now. It is hardly of importance at this moment."
"Of course. Nothing is."
"Elrohir?" Elladan forced his brother to turn around and look him in the eyes. Elrohir was trembling like a sick kitten. His calm and gentle voice grew shrill and hysterical. Elladan only now noticed the deathly paleness of his twin's skin. He was afraid, afraid to illness. Elladan knew his brother despised boats and feared deep water after nearly drowning in young age, but this was beyond a childhood fear. Elladan preferred not to contemplate the issue too much, but he could no longer ignore the deeply disturbing consequences Gil-Galad's pronounced relationship with their father had on gentle Elrohir. The elf had boyish admiration and great reverence for the High King, but he could not get over having to divide his loyalties with Elrond's lover and his beloved mother, especially knowing that in all likelihood had it not been for Gil-Galad's death, the family which he loved with such passion wouldn't have existed at all. It was a harsher adjustment than he could tolerate.
"Nothing is really of importance to you, Elladan!" Elrohir angrily shoved his brother backwards. "Our family is falling apart! As if Arwen's life wasn't enough of a waste, now you must walk the same path into nothingness! Slice right across our parents' hearts just like she did! And you have no shame for your nonchalance! You licked every set of lips that begged to kiss you and you laid in every bed that beckoned you with its warmth! Even Ada's lover you couldn't resist! Why not? You only have a short time before the worms will feast on your flesh. Why not lie with every elf or man that desires you?!"
"Elrohir, you are screaming without caution! You'll awaken..."
"I love you," Elrohir's eyes glistened with steaming tears, "more than life, but you tread on my feelings and brush them off like dust! I have nobody but you left! But you have no care or sensitivity in your soul, just like the men you drink and sleep with!"
Elladan pulled his brother back into his arms, placing a brisk but tender kiss on his twin's resisting lips to silence him. He remained quiet for an unnaturally long moment, digesting the revelation he both dreamed of and dreaded. Things were becoming complicated, as Elladan had slightly different plans for the direction of his affections and he did not plan for such confessions just yet.
"I did not know you returned my desires," he said between kissing the cold lips before him, "this was a game of ours, a trick to irritate the smug elven nobles who fainted from anger seeing us in forbidden embraces, but I never knew, never guessed that you loved me for real, not just for pretence. I believed you when you said Legolas was your passion, and I left you alone to pursue your interest in the prince. I had no idea, forgive me, but I do love you back." They kissed again, gently at first, then harder, hungrier. "And I do not whish to rot any more than you do, I simply fear sailing to Valinor more than I fear remaining in Arda. I do not yet have the courage to overcome that fear."
"You love me?" Elrohir giggled eccentrically. "Repeat that you do! Promise me, swear to me that you will escape from Arda with me? Someday?"
"Let us come back to bed," Elladan lowered his grave gaze, "we will discuss it later."
"He is struggling," Gil-Galad watched solemnly as his lips adjusted to the stinging of the mariners' rum he sipped. He stood silently observing the young elves as they made their way out of sight. "It must not be like this," he shook his head and took another drink.
"So restless and so early," Thranduil leaned over the railing next to the king. "Oh," he exclaimed mockingly, catching the glimpse of the departing twins, "and so the drama continues. The members of the peredhel clan are quite prone to emotional turbulence, wouldn't you say? Yes, Elladan, he is worrisome indeed, he always has been the source of trouble, but believe you me, they are too bonded to each other to separate. Elladan will make peace with immortality sooner or later, worry not. He simply needs good guidance, and that he was denied in childhood."
"He was cherished well enough," Gil-Galad eyed the disheveled image of his companion, pouring more rum down his throat, "more that he ought to have been, if you ask me."
"Precisely my point, my king. Gentle as he was with them, our dear peredhel never did quite succeeded in the role of a proper sire. He spoiled the twins inexcusably and then conveniently refused to be liable for the outcome of such ruinous upbringing. I am certain he is glad to be rid of responsibility for them," the blond elf continued with hidden malice, "and who would blame him? Freedom must be an intoxicating thing. At times I feel I ought to run away with someone myself."
Thranduil's clear eyes focused on the distant darkness of the gathering clouds. They were far from Mithlond now. Lengthy weeks of sailing separated them from the ancient Elven kingdom and the restless waters surrounding the land of Harad were no less treacherous to the mind than the desert itself. Thranduil woke up with strange clarity on many occasions. He slumbered poorly and dreamed of ill things, but upon awakening he was full of strange energy and lust. His body was calling each time he smelled the wind, and he could not resist its power.
Currently he could not believe the words that just escaped his mouth. He swore to keep distance from Gil-Galad, and he swore with passion to never speak ill of his rival Elrond. He was, after all, risking his own head to save the elf, and back in Mithlond his regret at having crossed the peredhel was deep and sincere. But as days progressed Thranduil's sense of guilt and duty wore off. Nothing but Gil-Galad filled his thoughts once more and the more he dreamed of the High King, the more his desires seemed rightful and justified. He, a refined and well-breed member of the Firstborn nobility, deserved Gil-Galad no less than Elrond and it seemed cowardly and shameful to yield his position without mounting a fair fight.
Gil-Galad examined Thranduil, trying to focus his pupils as he searched for meaning in the still irises of the elf before him. Valar was he striking at that particular moment, with his hair lose and stirring lazily in the gusts of wind, with his skin moist from morning dew and lips pink from the early freeze in the air. Gil-Galad took one step back. He could not let his thoughts stray that way again. Celeborn's warning remained fresh in his mind. But the temptations were enormous.
He despised the sensations that took hold of every elf on the ship. At this point doubt begun to eat at the High King's heart. He was weary, as if he spent an age without sleep, and he no longer sported the rabid enthusiasm about their journey. He would never admit it aloud, but deep inside he begun to question if the entire undertaking actually had a purpose. It suddenly seemed so natural that Elrond was long dead and that Sazaar will forever evade capture. What would he do with him even if he could catch him? It all seemed so hopeless and gray, like the mass of clouds above the colorless horizon, and he was alone in this unbearable pit of bleakness. He beckoned Thranduil closer.
"Do you believe Elrond is still among the living, my friend?" Thranduil reached out to caress the cold cheek of his king. He exhaled softly at the pleasure the feel of Gil-Galad's flesh brought him. Yes, yes that felt right, Thranduil stepped closer yet, bringing their bodies in direct contact. This was his place, and he would not yield, not an inch. He leaned in to grant his beloved a careful kiss.
"Yes, yes he is," Thranduil's fingers snaked their way into Gil-Galad's thick, unbrushed hair, "and yet I sense his energy is no longer pure."
"No longer pure? Tell me," Gil-Galad brought Thranduil closer, "does it mean he is fading? Is he gravely injured and in pain?"
"I do not believe so," Thranduil beckoned the High King to follow him to his quarters, "in all likelihood it simply means that he is now bonded with another and his energy is joined with that of his mate." Thranduil knew he would some day be punished for such blatant lie and he understood well the implications of such a statement, but regardless of the outcome he was too consumed by the moment to care. "Bid the ship to turn around, my king, let him be if he has so unwisely chosen to join souls with his captor. There is no need for our involvement."
"Is there now?" Gil-Galad lifted Thranduil's chin with his powerful fingers, caressing the skin on the elf's upper neck. "Your sweet lips have lied to me before and the wisdom gained from previous error is in not repeating it once more. You cannot know this for certain."
"I dare not to dictate what you must make of my words, my king. My duty is to convey what feelings haunt me, and you decide for yourself what to conclude from them."
"I want to look him in the eye and hear him say it," Gil-Galad's dry smile barely concealed his boiling anger, his eyes flared with deadly jealousy. "Upon my birth I was denied the gift of sensing other elves around me as clearly, and now I gravely regret that handicap. But if what you speak of is true and Elrond's energy you feel is mixed with that of that stray dog, then I want to look him in the eyes and hear his reason. His pathetic excuse for abandoning all that he held sacred on his own free will!"
"Hush, hush, Erenion, you will awaken everyone with such loud proclamations," Thranduil soothingly ran his hands over Gil-Galad's forearms, "let Elrond slip from your mind, just for now, just for a minute, come with me instead. You know my loyalty to you is unwavering, it has always been so."
"Indeed it has," Gil-Galad followed Thranduil's buttocks with renewed interest. He ordered himself to remain objective and patient, but jealous temper was his perpetual weakness and before long Gil-Galad's thoughts were ablaze with rage. "You betraying halfling bitch," he cursed Elrond under his breath, "so you weren't too heartbroken to remarry hastily and switch your allegiances! Oh I will show you! Oh how I will enjoy strangling you and your bastard mate with my own two hands!"
He followed Thranduil down the dark narrow hallway deep inside the ship. Minutes later they crushed through the door and descended onto Gil-Galad's unnaturally stiff bed in a hurricane of hungry whispers and lustful caresses. Gil-Galad's sudden aggressiveness did little to smother the wild wanting that enflamed Thranduil's groin. The High King was in the throws of jealous fury and he made love accordingly, biting to draw blood and shredding Thranduil's delicate undergarments with diligence of an angry Orc.
He kissed his blond lover's body with exuberance of a mean-spirited little boy and Thranduil moaned in pleasure when Gil-Galad's tongue curled in his bellybutton.
The High King was a master of the lovemaking art and feeling the wave of ecstasy and painful spasms sweeping over his body Thranduil understood why the court elves of both genders waged a secret war amongst themselves for the privilege to be the one upon whom the bachelor king bestowed his fascinating graces. Gil-Galad often paralleled his sexual strategy with that which he used to win wars. He carefully observed the habits of his lovers, he listened to their bodies and then aimed to completely conquer their minds. In bed his hands caressed the spots no lover ever thought to touch and his massaging fingertips drove Thranduil into convulsions of pleasure. He could not breath or speak, only beg for more with his silently parted lips. Today, however, Gil-Galad's mood was not particularly kind or altruistic. His powerful fingers curled in the smaller elf's blond locks. Thranduil moaned helplessly feeling some of the hair separate from the scalp, but he was silenced with a strangely furious growl.
"You asked for this," Gil-Galad hissed, tugging at the elf's pointed ear with his teeth, "I do not play games." Moody like an angry bull, Thranduil thought with fleeing disappointment. He hated to admit that Elrond still drove the High King into throws of emotion and nothing, not even the gift of Thranduil's flawless body, could take Gil-Galad's mind away. That ate at Thranduil's ego. He did not expect such roughness, not like this in any case, and trying to appease his angry king he relaxed, arching his backside and forcing himself onto his elbows, just high enough to embrace his lover with his slender legs. They watched each other for a while, but then unexpectedly Thranduil was flipped over to his stomach and spread out like a starfish. He giggled, anticipating a playful wrestling match, but Gil-Galad really was not in the mood for games. He pounced on top like a large tiger.
He made no effort to relax or even moisten Thranduil's willing body before making his entrance. He simply spread the soft, lush mounts of flesh laid out helplessly before him and slammed into the tightening channel with no consideration for the cries of pain that escaped his lover's mouth. He growled in release, steadying himself over his prey. Strange bloodthirst took over Gil-Galad's normally considerate nature, his eyes narrowed in sadistic pleasure as his fingers coiled around the soft neck of his mate. Scenes of battle flashed in his mind, the red eye of Sauron momentarily blinded all his other senses. Out there, in the haze of black battle smoke there was Elrond who fought against him, his body clad in dark armor, a rearing serpent embedded onto his shield. His gray eyes shined with evil blaze. Gil-Galad smiled cruelly, watching the soft twisting body beneath him.
"Traitor!" he squeezed his fingers into fists. "I will destroy you for this!"
"My king, please! I...your grip is too tight!" Gil-Galad sat still, staring at the vanishing vision, but then, in a moment of clarity, he rolled off Thranduil.
"Valar what is this?" He looked in horror at the few drops of blood that stained the sheets and his slowly relaxing cock. "Thranduil, why did you keep silent? Why did you permit me to abuse you so?"
"Well, my king," Thranduil choked, rubbing his bruised neck, "it was less than pleasant, but I imagined being this rough was your intent."
"Bah! When was it ever my intent to become a sadistic torturer, spilling my seed in pleasure from the look and feel of another's bitter pain? This cursed ship, I'd rather swim the rest of the way than to remain in this prison!" Gil-Galad examined his hands in disbelief, "I nearly strangled you without realization! I...this is driving me mad! I see visions, at times so real I cannot tell where they end and where reality beings."
"It is all the more reason to avoid being alone, my king." Squinting his eyes from dry pain in his bruised depth Thranduil seated himself next to Gil-Galad. "Strange thoughts enter the mind when it is left without companionship. Order me to, and I will remain by your side for as long as my presence is desired. It will be for our mutual benefit. My mind and my body is at your service." Gil-Galad looked upon the nude body of his lover. He felt ill from the rum and the dull headache that was always at the backdrop of his existence. And now the thoughts of Elrond have returned, but so did the wretchedness of uncertainty. What awaited him and his troubled beloved beyond the horizon? Why must things be so complicated? He could not bear to think about it now. Love was a cruel thing, it hurt worse than any wound sustained in battle, it never stopped hurting, and jealousy only ate at the already sore edges.
"Granted, I could use company," Gil-Galad announced dejectedly. "Very well, King Thranduil, you are welcome to remain with me in my quarters. For now." He leaned back in bed, relaxing his nude body and closing his eyes to escape the dancing shadow of the skinny candles and the gray light of the early day. "But draw no conclusions from my offer. I am not seeking another mate to replace Elrond. Both of you are nothing but perpetual sources of heartache and disturbance to my peace of mind. Do you understand?" Thranduil remained silent, smiling to himself. How long has he yearned for his, and at last the High King's bed was all his to occupy. Yes, victory was sweet indeed. Thranduil smiled again thinking of his old rival. Yes, yes, dear Lord Elrond, with enough patience and coaxing even the strongest of love bonds could be broken. Your hold on the High King's heart wasn't written in stone after all. They had plenty more days of sailing ahead of them, and Thranduil was confident that in the time allotted to him he could teach Gil-Galad to love another. It was just a matter of practice, just like taming a wild stallion.
Hissing angrily Gil-Galad rolled out of bed, frantically rubbing his eyes.
"Ohhh!" Glorfindel hissed back, "it burns, does it not!?"
The elf poured the rest of the rum onto the floor. "I do not know how I resisted slashing your royal throat! What lewdness! What hypocrisy! You have a lesser predisposition for monogamy than a wild dog! Are you scared of the dark? Is that why you cannot bear to sleep alone?"
"You will pay for such shameless accusations!" Gil-Galad sprang up and attempted to grasp Glorfindel's throat, but the golden elf easily evaded the attack.
"I do not fear you or any one of the royal Noldor peacocks for that matter! Sit," he ordered, pushing a chair into the king's hands, "and please cease drinking this distasteful liquid, it poisons your good judgment."
Gil-Galad growled, but realizing that his head was indeed clouded from sudden awakening and earlier rum consumption, he settled in the chair, glaring at Glorfindel. Gil-Galad had an odd relationship with the former Barlog slayer and he never quite understood if Glorfindel quietly respected him or secretly despised. The golden elf was his own being, he easily disregarded any Elven customs that came in conflict with his personal convictions and held no particular respect for any members of the Elven nobility. He was a perpetual source of scandal in Gondolin and his reputation for speaking his mind followed Glorfindel to Mithlond. Gil-Galad knew that Glorfindel never forgave him for answering Elrond's feelings.
He was convinced that Elrond's infatuation would have died out on its own if Gil-Galad didn't take it upon himself to teach the poor elfling to love him so hopelessly. Glorfindel was also convinced that it was Gil-Galad's fear of commitment and a little cowardice, not the restrictions of his position as the High King that kept him from marrying Elrond properly and with that idea Glorfindel could not make peace. Currently he eyed his king with a mixture of contempt and annoyance.
"You know," he said after a pause, "it is true that the strongest of us crumble the fastest. What is it about sexual fulfillment that makes it impossible for you to function without it?" He rubbed his face, momentarily closing his eyes. "It is our great fortune that Cirdan picked a rough and experienced crew of mariners who are capable of doing what they must without guidance, but it is unwise for you, my king, to tumble in sweaty embraces while carelessly allowing things to go their own way. We are far from our land, and aside from the dubious loyalty of the men we brought along with us, we have not a soul to trust. Our trip nears its end, we will see land in no more than three weeks, and we need a coherent plan of what we must do upon our arrival. We must remain vigilant and connected."
"We have been, Lord Glorfindel, so vigilant in fact that not one of us sleeps peacefully at night! All we do is quarrel, think about that cursed city and watch each other's shadows."
"That brings me to another matter," Glorfinde leaned in closer, ensuring that not one curious ear overhears his voice, "have you noticed the lustful and tender stares our Elladan exchanges with the Haradrim brothers, especially the younger Fahrey, who is barely past the age at which such thoughts are decent? Do you see that disaster will happen if the fool is to bed this child?" Gil-Galad blinked his eyes, trying to think through the proposed dilemma.
"Elladan?" He whispered, shaking his head. "He is at the age when it is natural to flirt with anything that moves and perhaps, if further trade with Bazhisha-Dar is in our future, we ought to be more tolerant of our southern neighbors. The boy is mature enough, and he is charming in an eerie way. Let them play if they must, what harm will it do? Elladan is committed to Elrohir at heart and his friend probably has his own lover awaiting him home. Their paths will never cross after our journey is over. Let it be, or speak with him if so doing will relieve you. I have more vital matters on my mind than protecting Fahrey's virginity, especially if he is determined to part with it."
"Oh your carelessness is murdering my hopes!" Glorfindel hissed. "Let it be, say you? We plan to stay with Fahrey's sire when we arrive! Do you realize what scandal it will cause if one of us leaves the young fool without his honor? This is not the sort of thing you want to toy with! Fahrey may be fond of elves and the Western lands, but some Haradrim are cruel and proud folk, and we know nothing of his sire's principles. He may think nothing of the matter, but he may turn out to views one's honor as sacred. For these men pride overshadows reason. You know what those types of fathers do if their children decide to spread their legs before marriage? They hammer a large, sharpened steak into the ground and force their crying pleading offspring to sit on it until it pierces them all the way through. It is a horrific and slow death, believe me I have seen it, and the same fate awaits the offending lover! Is this what you want to happen to Elladan?"
"Heavens no!" Gil-Galad's stomach contracted unpleasantly at the thought.
"I made an attempt to incite some reason in the rutting fool," Glorfindel continued grimly, "but he is bent on tasting the forbidden fruit and will not listen to any warnings!"
"Oh he is a clever young he-witch, and like all Haradrim he isn't worthy of a drop of trust! Of all their kind his type is most dangerous, the small, slender innocent type with childlike features and quiet demeanor. They are more frightening than the roaring beasts like Sazaar because even the most cautious men do not perceive them as dangerous, but believe me, it is the smallest snakes that are the most venomous! Each step he makes, he makes only to advance his own purpose and whatever Fahrey's purpose is in luring Elladan on top of himself, it cannot end well for either Elladan or us. Elladan worships you and to your word he will listen."
"I must speak with him then," Gil-Galad responded getting up. "This I did not anticipate. The twins seemed rather absorbed by each other."
Glorfindel rose up as well and briskly strode to the door to swing it open. Gil-Galad reluctantly exited the dim room, casting a brief glance at the peaceful form of Thranduil who slumbered through the entire exchange. Moments later his bare feet tread silently on the hallway's creaking boards. The wind picked up and the waves grew angrier, clawing at the ship like hungry sea monsters. The vessel swayed from side to side, making everything move and tremble in a sickening rhythm. Glorfindel stopped by the dark outline of a narrow door.
"No," Gil-Galad continued past the golden elf and motioned for Glorfindel to follow. "I need to speak with Farhey first, if it is his honor we are trying to protect." Gil-Galad acted on pure intuition, for somehow he sensed that he would not find the elder twin in the room he shared with Elrohir. At times like these he wished for Glorfindel's nonchalance, but the crown on his head excluded the possibility of ever having such luxury. Whatever came about ultimately became his problem and nobody stood behind him to take the weight of responsibility off his shoulders. And now this nasty little matter.
"Fahrey?" Gil-Galad knocked softly, aware now that he had slept through the day and that the hour was late. "I must speak with you, forgive my intrusion." He knocked more insistently until the door swung open.
"Oh." Was all Elladan could say. His hand froze midway in a silent attempt to cover his obvious nudity, but his motions were confused and ill-coordinated. Unsure of what to do he stared at Gil-Galad and Glorfindel, goggle-eyed and disoriented.
"Bastard!" Glorfindel did not wait long to shove Gil-Galad out of the way and curl his fingers around Elladan's neck. "I knew it! You just couldn't resist! You have to try them all, do you not you little rodent!" He shook the young elf who was so terrified of the unexpected attack that he ceased to resist and just squeezed his eyes shut.
"Please, you will strangle him." Glorfindel turned to the chillingly whispery voice. Fahrey's hazel eyes were wide and cold. On the tanned skin of his neck Glorfindel could easily discern passion marks from angry kisses. His young but well-muscled body trembled slightly as he gazed at the strangers with tranquility that was icy and emotionless. He removed a thick waterfall of hazel curls from his face. "Do you consider this a crime, my lord?"
"We will speak shortly!" Glorfindel pointed at Elladan's nose. "How old are you, young sir," he turned to the boy in bed, "if you do not mind me inquiring? And does your sire approve of such excessive amiability towards strangers?"
"I should think not!" Gil-Galad and Glorfindel both looked questioningly at Irzen, whose fierce features communicated ill-concealed anger. The elder brother suddenly appeared from the darkness, his black eyes drilling into his younger sibling who remained in bed, still motionless and uninterested. "How did this happen, you vermin? Have you forgotten about your engagement?"
The man demanded, looking directly at Fahrey, as if all others who crowded the hallway before the door did not exist. Fahrey shook his head in silence, refusing to raise his eyes. Gil-Galad watched with cold worry building up in his gut. He meant it to be a private and unimportant affair, but it was private no longer and it did escalate from a nagging little problem into a real disaster. Irzen said something harsh-sounding in his native tongue and judging by the paleness that suddenly showed on Fahrey's face they were not kind words.
Feeling awkward in his bold nakedness Elladan stepped from one foot to another, not knowing if he ought to defend his position or play as if he regretted it deeply. Gil-Galad watched the twin's uncertainty until his mouth parted slightly at the site of Elrohir, who appeared from the shadows right behind Elladan. Of course, his quarters were only a few feet away. Only a deaf man would not hear Glorfindel's cursing! This was not a good time. Gil-Galad prayed that Elladan would not speak to worsen matters.
"You cannot help some matters," Elladan shrugged, "it isn't as if we meant to burn the ship and murder every soul here! We did no harm to anyone! What is it, my king?" His tone turned sarcastic. "Have we no right for entertainment?" Gil-Galad realized that his silent signals were not interpreted as they should have been. Elladan only scowled back and turned around to leave, but as he did so he suddenly found himself facing his twin. Elrohir observed his brother's slightly erect maleness and the unfolding scene with wide betrayed eyes. He was an insightful being and he knew what took place before his eyes without being told.
"You murdered one soul tonight alright," Elrohir took a step back from Elladan who opened his mouth in silent apology. "Now I understand your reluctance to rejoice in my feelings for you quite well. Indeed. Bronze skin, strange eyes, and mysterious demeanor. He is a worthy rival. What immortal bliss may ever compare to his fiery caresses? And who needs a family when such sweet exotic beauties are beckoning you right into old age and maggot-infested grave!" With these words Elrohir spun around and silently vanished back into the shadows. A storm was coming, and like nothing else his aching heart and tear-stained face longed for the forceful freshness of the ocean wind saturated with drops of the rains. At times like these he missed mother the most.
Elladan chose not to race after his brother, it would be of no use, not now anyhow, but he dared not to come between the furious Haradrim siblings who were now engaged in a heated argument either. They sounded like two large tomcats settling a territory dispute and he had no reason to interrupt their quarrel. Fahrey was a curiously dangerous experiment. Elladan was intrigued no doubt, one could say he even developed a taste for the boy's distinctive scent and feel, but this new interest was not the same as the deep settled affection he felt for Elrohir. Besides, Elladan was more than marginally annoyed at Fahrey's failure to admit that he was engaged and now he wondered, with good reason, about how he ended up in bed with him anyhow. He came to ask for something, for what Elladan could not even remember, and then...then they were rolling and kissing on the floor. Was there something to Glorfindel's warning about the Haradrim's ability to hypnotize minds? Who was his lover in his other life back home? Elladan possessed his body in the most passionate session of lovemaking, but he knew nothing about Fahrey. Even the youngest Haradrim were cunning and manipulative, Elladan decided with rising apprehension. There was a feeling at the pit of his gut that he made a great error in ever involving himself with a man against whose people he and his comrades fought in the last war. Scenes from the battle flashed in his mind, the great Mumakil trampling those he laughed and drank with hours earlier, and he felt deep shame. This wasn't good.
"Don't be so haste to curse me, I am only trying to understand...," Elladan said to nobody in particular. "I know what I told Elrohir on the deck," he cautiously looked up into Gil-Galad's scorning eyes, "I swore I loved him. I meant my words then, but I am not so certain now. Elrohir is my other half, my only twin, and it will remain so. But he is an elf at heart, a sensitive and mystical creature I do not, I cannot understand. I hunger for a lover of flesh and blood, the kind who lives now, here with me, not there, in the distant future, in the fantasy land of Valinor. When we spoke Fahrey listened without judgment and he seemed to understand me so well. I am not promiscuous, in all honesty, I am simply confused and obsessed with finding what I crave."
"And have you found it yet?" Gil-Galad gently patted Elladan's cheek with the back of his hand.
"No sire, I have not. But Fahrey toughed me a worthy lesson. I do now think that I must look for love among mortal men, not my own kind. Elves really do not understand me, and the perpetual sadness and tranquility of my people suffocate my spirit. It pains me, I will not lie, but I believe I have found the road I must take. Good night."
Gil-Galad's heart sank, but his face remained emotionless as he watched Elladan's swaying naked buttocks disappear in the darkness of the hall. His lustrous eyes focused on Fahrey, who fiercely defended his ground against his furious elder sibling. In his defensive state something ugly and skewed showed on his face, as if a whole other being lived in the shell of beauty and innocence he showed to the world. Fahrey taught you a worthy lesson about the joys of mortal life, say you? Gil-Galad narrowed his eyes in a flash of anger. It suddenly occurred to him what Fahrey's agenda was all along. According to his brother he was engaged, and it did not take a wise man to see that he wanted out of that engagement, the king decided, shaking his head in disbelief. And what better way was there to escape unwanted marriage than to declare that he had already given himself to another? Clever little viper, Gil-Galad met Fahrey's eyes that returned a silent challenge, so quiet and sweet for all this time. Well I'd be damned a thousand times over if you succeeded in talking my Elladan into marrying your scaly soul! He tightened his finders into fists. We shall see whose wisdom prevails. Returning Elladan to the path of the Firstborn will not be easy, but Gil-Galad won harder battles before.
Elrond awakened stretching nervously, his nude body lingered in the feathery lightness of the lush silks beneath him. He slowly opened his eyes. The dreams of his harmonious and peaceful Rivendell were nothing but that - wistful thinking. The half-elf groaned. How childish was his former dissatisfaction with the well-established routine and how welcoming and distant his life of a lord and healer now seemed. Valar is punishing me, Elrond concluded, tasting Sazaar's scent on his lips and neck, and not just for aspiring to love the High King. The image of Celebrian entered his mind, her full voluptuous breasts, tender lips and bitter tears she shed on her wedding night when he revealed to her that she was merely a medicine he hoped would cure his heart from the loss of his beloved Gil-Galad. No, no he wasn't a monster. Merely a creature so close to dying from grief than that he blindly clasped onto the first hand that reached out to him. The hand of his closest friend and playmate of his youth, his Celebrian, the poet, the singer, the nurturing angel whose warmth brought him back to life. And how did he repay her for the favor? Elrond signed. He hasn't, and he never managed to chase Gil-Galad's ghost out of their bedroom either. Dead or alive, the High King ruled his heart and his dear wife, unfortunate enough to have given him her hand in marriage, was trapped in this triangle through no fault of her own. It hurt her, Elrond knew, and he wondered with a sinking heart if departing for Valinor Celebrian knew he loved her. He adored her, with passion, but did she know? Now Sazaar's casual bodily advances seemed rather justified to him, and even the drunk kisses of his master were no longer a cause for indignity. In a big scheme of things I deserved this, Elrond turned on the other side frowning. Restless, ungrateful old fool! Now beg the Valar you will be permitted to escape this madness!
He considered his escaping plan once more. He despised this house of stone passages and stairs that circled and twisted around each other in bizarre patterns, creating a sickening labyrinth that ultimately lead nowhere. There were staircases on the ceiling, doors that lead into empty space, water that somehow ran up, not down the walls. Aye what mean-spirited design, Elrond wrinkled his nose as the disproportionate patterns bothered his sharp Elven sense of harmony, but that was not his prime concern. Upon their arrival to Bazhisha-Dar his self-proclaimed owner quickly changed from an almost melancholy wonderer Elrond saw while traveling through the desert to a fierce and lusty tyrant. His large amber eyes saw through walls, he walked silently and appeared without warning, growling like a Warg and searching for a reason to incite a violent confrontation. Elrond grew even more suspicious when he could not discern the origins of raw meat Sazaar consumed daily. Was there something to his story about madness running in their bloodline? Elrond shuddered at the unexpected voice.
"Silent, silent, my lady, hush now, you will awaken him." Elrond turned his head to the whispering feminine voice. Celebrian? He set up and squinted his eyes, blinking them rapidly. The woman did not vanish. She sat with her back turned to him, with the same grace and posture his beloved wife had on those long-past mornings of his married years. The same long frock of pearly-emerald color hugged her tall, slender frame and the same river of rich blond waves cascaded down her back. Elrond was stunned. He leaned in, watching the woman as she rubbed the fur under the lynx's chin, and the lynx, at the peak of her feline ecstasy, made rumbling purring-like noises, it's thick furred tail slowly moving from side to side.
"Hush, hush," the voice so much like that of his Celebrian whispered into Selga's ear. Suddenly the lynx opened its eyes and pulled away from the woman's hands. She shuddered and turned to look at Elrond, her large eyes glistening with fright. "Forgive me, master, I meant not to disturb you." Elrond held up his hand but the woman quickly struggled to her feet. The half-elf cocked his ears in rising curiosity when he saw that she was heavily pregnant. A small smile spread over his lips as a pleasurable thought visited him. The frightening lynx was not aggressive, but permitted no one but Sazaar to caress herself. If this woman could tame the beast, so could he. Then the last barrier keeping him from seeking freedom would crumble. Splendid.
"I see we speak the same tongue," Elrond begun kindly, "I have not seen you before. Are you Selga's keeper?" he leaned in even more, testily evaluating the young woman.
"Say no such thing," the girl pleaded, throwing herself to her knees, "I dare not to dream of such honors. I am here as a humble servant, breathing only to fulfill your needs and asking for no more than your mercy and grace." Elrond scratched the back of his head. He was distinctly uncomfortable seeing a maiden so close to delivering a child lower down on her knees to touch his left foot with her forehead in a display of honor.
"Please," he leaned in to help her up, "never do this again, for me or for another being! You will damage your child bending like this. Come closer." He gently examined her expanded body, carefully feeling for the child. "When?"
"Two weeks, heavens willing, but it is hardly a heavy burden to carry, my lord."
"Two weeks? I do not believe so. The work of a maid is hard labor and I refuse to be the cause of your straining," Elrond said firmly, rising his right brow. "Please, I mean my words. Go, summon your master to me and I will negotiate for some vacation on your and your child's behalf." The woman's eyes suddenly filled with unspeakable horror, as if a monstrous serpent reared his head behind Elrond's back. The woman chocked on her words and trembling as if death itself was upon her she begun to back away from the half-elf. Awkwardly moving backwards she knocked over several miniature statues and vanished in the depth of the mirrored hall that lead out into the balcony.
"Damn the vixen!" Sazaar hissed, leaping past Elrond over the vast bed, but the half-elf grabbed his wrist, holding him in place. "I have urgent business to attend to, my queen, and you would be best to mind your own affairs while I settle this!"
"If you have trouble catching a pregnant woman," Elrond growled back, "you are out of shape! And," he briskly grabbed the handle of a large knife that hung from Sazaar's elaborate belt, "dare not to call me your queen! I belong to no one, and you best remember that lest you lose your tongue!"
"Aye, desert lily, have you forgotten about your promise to behave well?" Sazaar slowly pulled away from the blade Elrond held right between his legs. "Selga has not been fed this morning." Elrond dropped the blade into Sazaar's hand, feeling the hot breath of the lynx right on his left ear. I must do something with the damned beast, the half-elf decided, watching Sazaar lean in to kiss the cat on the forehead. I cannot defeat him as long as she guards his safety. Sazaar winked his large eye and slid out of bed. "Selga. Catch that little bitch and bring her to me," he ordered sternly. The lynx darted into the hallway in pursuit of the woman. Elrond's mouth parted open at the command, but at this point another thought overshadowed his concern for the girl.
Elrond eyed Sazaar's ceremonial gown of heavy white satin with suspicion. The man was volatile and being so near him without weapons sent waves of apprehension and restlessness into Elrond's gut. Could he kill Sazaar if it came to it? Elrond glanced at the circlet that sparkled on the pearly pillow. It promised him a life of decadent servitude to a Haradrim scoundrel and would seal his fate to be eternally separated from all that he held dear. Yes, he tightly squeezed his jaws, I have allowed this to go on far too long.
"Ah yes," Sazaar smiled thoughtfully, "an elf may age at heart but never his ego! Take this," he handed the heavy blade of a short sword into Elrond's hand, "please be quick. I am a coward when it comes to pain. Come my old friend, end it all, why don't you?" Elrond stood facing Sazaar, unaware and unconcerned about his bold nudity. Their eyes met and battled.
"No," Elrond turned the blade away, reaching for his robe.
"How noble of you," Sazaar chuckled sheathing the sword, "have no doubt I have no such nobility and will use this blade as soon as your lordly presence becomes unprofitable. Dress yourself with style, Lord Elrond, you aren't here to be a useless accessory and I'll see to it that you will earn your upkeep."
"Toil for you!" the half-elf cried in anger, cursing himself for declining the sword.
"Yes, yes I know you'd rather die than degrade yourself to such lowliness," Sazaar waved his hand in annoyance, "I heard that before. Now listen. I am broke and as the ruler of this household I must undertake the burden of supporting a new litter of my maids' children! There are huge rats instead of dried fruit and wheat in the kitchen, thieves made off with a barrel of golden coins, the roof in the northern wing collapsed from the recent storm, my chief adviser hung himself, and yes, this joyous morning I found out I am about to have another child! Now," Sazaar's lips came so close to Elrond's ear that the half-elf could smell the mint and spices in his breath, "an elf of your gorgeous complexion and such lush buttocks is worth enough to remedy all my problems at once. Resist me and I will sell you along with your royal temper to the highest bidder."
Humiliation wasn't quite the just word for the new duty Elrond held in Sazaar's failing household. He couldn't find a term that fit his feeling. Resentment? Irritancy? Disgrace? No, no that wasn't right. Elrond shook his head, dipping the feather into the elongated ink bottle and continuing to write his memoir. Although sunset was upon them the long line of spectators who came to see "the elf" did not grow shorter. Each curious citizen brought a large golden coin which they deposited in a tall shiny barrel. For their money's worth they could circle the half-elf, carefully examining his irresistibly appealing features from a few feet away. It wasn't incredibly intrusive, Elrond discovered as he continued to write, and after a while he even begun to take pride in the awe-struck faces of the Bazhisha-Dar residents. He smiled at some, just to see their joyous reaction, and in the spirit of a good businessman he even cut out and sold a handful of his hair as good-luck charms. He was the object of unspeakable fascination. Elves were regarded as wondrous and mythical creatures few ever had the fortune to see, and soon "the elf" grew from being an attraction to a sort of deity. Fine lords offered snorting, shiny thoroughbred stallions and jewels of unbelievable worth to Sazaar, but he remained adamant that his elf was too precious to sell.
Though indignant of being shown off like a rare possession at first, Elrond soon saw the merit of his position. In the few days of his strange employment he quickly established himself as a crucial source of income and immediately gained bargaining rights he needed in order to plan his escape. Sazaar did not hesitate to bestow his graces upon his priceless companion and curbed his nasty temper significantly. Having consumed his portion of meat Sazaar could even be good company and the half-elf, though still wary, listened with fascination to Sazaar's accounts of the long and turbulent history of Harad. Only the finest food and wine found their way to Elrond's table. He was clad like a king and permitted to socialize with guests, freely explore the house and the surrounding territory, and even venture into the city. All was within his reach on one condition: Selga had to follow him wherever he went. And the lynx performed her duty flawlessly. She awakened him each morning, swam with him when he bathed in the ocean, watched him eat, travel, write, read, and think. At the end of the day she settled next to him when he prepared to slumber, her fangs and claws always just one move away from his flesh.
"My wife believed your kind was the wisest and purest of all beings to walk in Arda," Elrond said pensively to the lynx as he entered his bed. How long has it been? Merely four nights, and it seemed that an age has passed. He despised the nighttime because the vivid colorful experiences of the day's travels always seemed so fake and insignificant when he saw the clear night sky. The same one he gazed upon as he lie in the arms of his beloved Gil-Galad, in the faraway days of his nonchalant youth, when it seemed that the world and its laws were flexible and mellow, that one could change and restructure them at will. Much has come to pass between him and Erenion, an age of heartbreaks and doubts, fears, jealousy, and wavering trust. But time healed, and gazing into his past Elrond no longer felt contempt for Thranduil or his dearest king, he only felt deep and bitter regret at having failed to show the kind of patience and understanding he always demanded of others. "Do you believe in eternal love?" Elrond whispered in Elvish. The lynx that sat by his bedside grew still, its large blue eyes were thoughtful and distant for an instant, and then the cat slowly and meaningfully lowered her head in affirmation. The half-elf jumped as if a snake had bitten him. "Come, come to me," he beckoned, "you understand me, do you not?" He nearly laughed at the agreeable purring. "Just like the legends of the old say, the grand lynx are wondrous silent speakers." He gently massaged the fur under the lynx's chin and behind its furry ears, sharing his energy with the massive feline.
"I believe we will become great friends, my lady," Elrond smiled to himself as a sense of relief and liberty flooded his senses. Selga decided on her own who, among the many beings surrounding her, she ought to grant her trust. No the lynx could not be tamed into submission as he originally planned, but as a being of profound intelligence the remarkable feline understood his pleas and this gave Elrond hope that despite Sazaar's orders to guard him Selga would permit him to seek his freedom. Could animals have compassion? Or was there another reason? Celebrian. But could it be that after so many moons and so many miles the fully grown pet of his long-departed wife would recognize him, having seen him but a few times? "Celebrian. Do you remember Celebrian?" The lynx slowly blinked its large eyes.
The next morning found the crew and the passengers of the calmly sailing vessel in a solemn mood. Gil-Galad glanced at the treacherously pleasant sunlight that invaded the captain's quarters through the elaborate frames of the window. The captain himself sat stiff-necked and impatient at the head of the table, watching each entering man with his icy eagle eyes. Glorfindel settled on Gil-Galad's right, nodding briefly to his king and to the captain.
Elladan lingered in the doorway, considering carefully if he ought to sit by his twin, who purposefully evaded his probing stare, or Fahrey, who welcomed his entrance with a strangely hospitable half-smile. Elladan greeted the confident king Thranduil with an equally proud expression and walking past the fair-haired elf he settled as far away from all three as possible. Irzen entered last, closing the door behind. Gil-Galad evaluated the young lord clad in dark robes adorned with the so ominously familiar amber and animal bones with slowly mounting hostility. Irzen was a purebred Haradrim assassin, with sharp facial features, a cruel alert glare, and lightning fast hand that never missed its target or gave quarter. Gil-Galad's memory lit up with fires men like Irzen set to burn villages through which they passed on the way to join up with Sauron's forces. His blood boiled at the memory of the screams. It was a cruel twist of fate that forced him to ally himself with the likes of these desert vipers. But his purpose was worth it, he told himself sternly. He was bound to Elrond in his heart and mind. Right now he desired nothing more than to embrace his lover in a feat of passionate lovemaking and watch his gray eyes roll in heated ecstasy. He drew his gaze away from Irzen's challenging stare.
"The watchmen spotted the peaks of the Great Serpent reef," the captain spat out without looking at anyone. "We've reached the end of the voyage. At your request, my king, I will order the ship to be stirred inland. Bazhisha-Dar spreads wide on the protruding peninsula and most convenient rout will-"
"I would advise you to stir clear from the main port and the conventional rout," Irzen noted impatiently. "It will not take a wise man to see that the ship is built like a military vessel and that it has not ventured here for the purpose of simple trade. If the locals suspect you of being slave traders you ship will be burned and you will be thrown in boiling oil without a trial."
"I would advise you, young sir, to permit the captain to do the work he was summoned for," Glorfindel noisily tapped his fingers. "At the beginning of the trip we have negotiated this once already! We have agreed full well that we will not take shortcuts or alternate routs from the ways established by the maps. The terms have not changed."
"When we negotiated this," Irzen turned to look directly at the Barlog slayer, "we were not informed that the purpose of this journey was to steal Sazaar's favorite consort. It is the task equivalent to taking the kill from an angry tiger and had this been revealed to me earlier by your most deceitful Lord Celeborn, I would have had nothing to do with this madness. However, I am a man of my word and since I swore my allegiance to you, I will follow my promise and help you. You, on your part, must trust my advice, or your corpses will end up feeding the sand dogs."
"Such concern is very gracious of you," Glorfindel said with obvious disgust, "but this `madness' you speak of isn't a matter of elaborate negotiations. Sazaar has no claim of ownership over Elrond and if-"
"Sazaar is the eldest citizen of this ancient city, Lord Glorfindel," Fahrey added with such chilling patience that Glorfindel was forced to cut off his argument. "His daughter, before her untimely passing, was our crowned queen the most worshiped monarch in our history. He is a deity in his own right, a creature of poorly understood and mythical nature, and for this he enjoys great adoration and reverence of local rulers. Even royalty will not dare to cross him. He survived wars and marriages with the most vicious rulers of our time and he keeps what's his, be it his life or his crown, and if you believe you can forcefully take what he considers a rightfully earned trophy, I advice you to rethink your strategy. It is easier to trick the tiger into giving up his kill than to fight him for it."
"I believe there is sense in that," Elladan finally spoke up, "have we considered simply paying Sazaar to release Ada without confrontation?"
"The ship is not large enough to hold a sufficient store of jewels and gold for him to think the trade is worth it," Gil-Galad concluded gravely, "he wants Elrond for reasons that cannot be dissuaded with a bribe. You of all beings know that."
"Oh yes of course," Elrohir snorted, "you two have a tragic history together. I only regret that my poor father must always bear the price for all your filthy intrigues and receive neither honor nor recognition for his sacrifice!"
"Know your place," Thranduil growled at the young elf, "there are rules of treating captured enemies and if your father had the good sense to obey them, he would have ordered Sazaar beheaded rather than sparing him for his beautiful eyes and then proceeding to test his fascinating love-making abilities!"
"They have laid together?" Fahrey smiled mysteriously at Gil-Galad who felt a cool chill down his spine. "That is a curious detail. What makes you think your father is a captive, then?"
"You spiteful scaly cobra," Elrohir cried, losing his long-held patience and lunging for Fahrey's face, "you dare to imply that my noble father would rather reside here with that half-breed sand jackal than return home and be the revered lord that he is! And you, Elladan, have you lost your wits speaking about Ada as if he was a commodity to be sold and paid for?"
"Quiet, Elrohir," Gil-Galad growled with harshness. "I admit to my part of the blame, but your Ada has contributed sufficiently to aggravating the situation. Hush now, I have no patience with your indignant outbursts!" he turned his attention to Irzen once more.
"I must know how exactly is it that your most respected Herald came into Sazaar's possession to begin with?" the man asked suggestively. "We have never been told the whole story." Gil-Galad's fingers squeezed into a fist. Irzen's mouth was a few degrees away from a mocking smile, his eyes lit up with a light of particular vulgarity that Gil-Galad found insulting.
"And you shouldn't have been," Gil-Galad raised his brows. "It is of no relevance to you."
"So it is a personal matter then," Irzen smiled to himself. "Love starts wars, they say."
"What are you suggesting?" Gil-Galad drew in slow breath, inches away from exploding.
"Nothing offensive, really. I was hoping that if he really was your Herald the matter was then of political nature and could be resolved diplomatically. But since Elrond is neither a Herald of your royal court nor your rightfully wed mate, the court and the council of the lords that governs this city will not help you. It is between you and Sazaar to fight over your lover."
"Enough of the foolishness!" Glorfindel exclaimed. "Your family has been paid graciously for your wisdom, and we do not want war. We wish for Elrond to be granted his freedom."
"Oh there are many," Irzen chuckled leaning back in his chair. "It all depends on how honorable or sly you wish to be. If one of you is willing to pose as bait, you may try to distract Sazaar from his prized companion. You may also lie in wait and attempt shooting him with a poisoned arrow. Or, my king, if it is a matter of honor, you may challenge Sazaar in the open and¼well, he is a superb fighter but has weak spots in his techniques, you can-"
"No, we cannot injure him in any way," Gil-Galad sat back rubbing his tired face. "I want to capture him alive." Irzen waited a moment to appreciate the meaning of the statement and begun laughing wholeheartedly until his large eyes glistened with tears.
"I am glad you find this amusing," Elladan said with annoyance, "but it is really not a laughing matter. It can be done without bloodshed, all we need is to plan well and to act briskly. My Ada need only to know that the opportunity is at his door, he is a warrior of great skill and prudence and I have faith in his ability to seek his freedom. And as for Sazaar, the angriest of tigers is a kitten when asleep. Poison or injure him into submission like you would a wild animal and he is yours to do what you must with him. The ship could be waiting at full sail and ready to depart. With haste action we may be with our trophies and on our way home in mere days!"
"Days, my boy?" It was the captain's turn to laugh. His laugh was dry and nervous as he slapped his knee and rolled his eyes to the sky. "After eleven weeks of hard sailing through corrosive water you want this creaky boat of yours to turn around and sail back in mere days! Aye, you arrogant lad! Know you not a thing of the maritime trade? The ship must be oiled and sails re-fitted, the supplies must be restocked and all storm damage repaired! Call on me in a fortnight and I shall tell you when we may be set to depart."
"Remain here for longer than a fortnight? Sleeping and living in the enemy land, with hundreds of dangerous eyes on us from dawn to dusk?" Thranduil shook a decisive no. "That is beyond what we can accept!"
"My lords, an ill-prepared ship is a death sentence in angry seas. Do you wish to feed the fishes?" The captain's tone turned defensive. "Two weeks, she will be ready to sail, I bet my right eye on it, but not a damn hour earlier."
"You know your ship best," Gil-Galad made clear that the debate was over, "I will ask nothing reckless of you. As for you, Irzen, our binds are too weak to demand trust, but I will offer considerate compliance. Now to the matter of `tricking the tiger' as you put it."
"There will be time to discuss the details. Put it out of your mind, my king, at least until you lay your eyes on your rival. You cannot plan in the blind," Fahrey said in his chilling husky voice. Gil-Galad followed Fahrey as he gracefully rose up and exited the brightly lit square of the room. Sensing that the brief exchange neared its end the captain signaled to his watchmen.
"Follow his commands," he nodded at Irzen, who also got up, "he directs the inland rout from now on and you are to obey his words as if they were mine."
Elrohir sat motionless as his eyes watched the men leave one by one. He considered the remaining ones with rising apprehension and hurt. They were ancient elves, the High King, Thranduil, Glorfindel, they have seen worlds fall and rise up from the ashes, they fought grand battles and bore the great scars of victory and loss. And yet for all their seeming wisdom they talked like cowards, Elrohir decided. While he was not surprised about Thranduil's position, he found it disappointing that his brother, Glorfindel, and most of all Gil-Galad were unwilling to simply face Sazaar in an open fight. Was there something he did not understand because of his young age? Some adherence to caution that came only in one's maturity? No, Elrohir shook his head, they were cowards. Even Elladan, who bragged so often about killing Orcs with his bare hands, seemed very hesitant now that the time to face the man who enslaved his beloved father came closer.
Sazaar was a different kind of opponent, fierce and dangerous no doubt, but it was his half-elven nature that gave him immunity in the elders' eyes. Elrohir was sure none of them would dare to kill him, if only because he was peredhel, and because Gil-galad once adored, and still did, the woman who brought Sazaar into the world. No matter what he did killing him was taboo. But not for Elrohir. He sighed resolutely and pushed himself up. He was a calm elf by nature, much less aggressive than Elladan, but there was one thing he could and did fight for with ferocity of a Warg - his family. And Sazaar has done that family great injustice. Let the old ones talk and consider, Elrohir decided, I have my own account to settle with Sazaar and my hand will not hesitate to deliver him what he deserves. He pushed himself up, squeezing the handle of the sword his father had given him on the day he reached his majority.
Elrohir remained at the edge of his nerves for the rest of the day and into the sickening and lonely dawn of next morning, when the ship exited the restless waters of the open ocean and snaked its way into a narrow bay. Elrohir detested the desert. Where were the lush river bushes that lined the streams back home? Where were the emerald crowns of trees with branches hanging low to drink the crystal waters? The shores were empty and bare, except for a few white skeletons of large animals and human foot tracks rising up the dune. The ship sunk its anchor at the end of a narrow, weathered dock when the sun was low above the horizon. Only when the deep moist darkness fell over the land did the travelers venture onto the foreign soil.
Under the cover of black shadows they made their way down empty streets. Elrohir winced at the skewed faces of hissing beggars who reached out to grab his legs. Irzen growled at the men, baring his short sword and cursing in his native tongue. The men retreated back into the shadows, huffing and spitting like mad animals. Elrohir instantly disliked the atmosphere of the city. Bazhisha-Dar was indeed the jewel of the Harad, it was a well-built and stunningly colorful place, with thin trees growing from the sides of buildings and lush palms swaying far above the light roofs. Still, it was a dangerous place, the young elf felt, watching the multiple eyes of the thieves and murderers who hid themselves under dark capes in poorly lit spaces. The shadows also hid dozens of the silent-footed desert nomads who frequented the city for trade and other less noble purposes. Elrohir looked hard, almost waiting for the familiar pair of bloody-amber colored irises to smile at him from the darkness.
"Elrohir?" The young elf stared at his twin, startled.
"Come on," Elladan urged his brother to follow. The silent company crowded through the carved door of a vast, white brick dwelling. The hour was late and the sleeping household lie silent. Elrohir glanced at the gigantic white peacock that strutted proudly across the shadowy terrace.
"Sire wishes to speak with you, my king. In private," Irzen added when the twins prepared to follow Gil-Galad into the master's quarters. "Fahrey will lead you to your quarters and I advice you to sleep well, this will be the last night you spend idly." Gil-Galad nodded to the grim companions and enthusiastically headed up the staircase, exchanging whispers with Irzen as they ascended.
"Quite wise of you to begin separating us from the start," Glorfindel hissed in displeasure.
"Your fears are quite unfounded, Lord Glorfindel," Fahrey said barely above a whisper, "and rather insulting, considering that it is under our roof that you plan to make your stay. I feel ill and have no strength for arguments, come with me, or make your bed here on the floor. I will not say a word more." Glorfindel examined Fahrey contemptuously. Fishing for pity, are you not? Glorfindel shook his head. Yes, the Haradrim had a peculiar talent for using even the least honorable means available to achieve their goals and they certainly knew how to exploit someone's good nature. Glorfindel frowned. He sincerely regretted failing to tell Elrond that for all his ferocious appearance, when he was cornered and wounded Sazaar quickly resorted to tears and pleas to induce the elven scouts into sparing his life. His display was so heart-wrenching to the inexperienced elves that they not only spared him but carried him back to Rivendell in hopes of relieving his pain. And look what has come of that? I will not make that mistake again, Glorfindel decided.
"I hope this illness of yours isn't contagious," he smirked.
"You are elves, and elves know not of illness," Fahrey responded bitterly, "come now."
Minutes later Elladan watched from the doorway of his luxurious room as Fahrey guided Thranduil to his quarters. Elrohir was already settled in a room near Elladan's but despite all attempts a conversation failed to sustain itself between the twins. Elladan stared at the closed door and chased the thought of his brother's nude body way. He missed his twin's company terribly, but it was no use trying to scale the wall of Elrohir's chosen isolation. Elladan decided that for once he will not beg for Elrohir's forgiveness.
"Fahrey," he called quietly to his companion. Fahrey granted him a cheerless smile. His breathing seemed labored as Elladan embraced his warm body in the empty hallway. He seemed infinitely more petite and desirable now than before. Elladan awkwardly slipped his hands under Fahrey's long robes to grasp his unusually fleshy buttocks.
"I will forsake my immortal years for you," he blurted out, having thought of nothing better to say as he massaged the arousing flesh. "I know not who else I can trust with my heart."
"My foolish one," Fahrey whispered running his hands through Elladan's hair, "you want to die for a body? How unwise. Tell me, what special love did you see grow between us that you became so willing to part with eternal youth for me? A few caresses? A lick on the lips? What have I said or done to incite such sandstorm of emotion in you?"
"Your kisses were sincere, I can tell a lie when I am told one. And what use is immortality to me if I cannot forever caress the one I can trust."
"And can you trust me?" Fahrey's eyes lit up at Elladan's eager nodding of the head. "How sure are you that it was not my hand that wounded you, there in the heat of battle at Pelennor Fields?" Fahrey watched with a small smile as Elladan's lower jaw dropped in shock. He blinked, gasped, then looked away to regain his composure.
"Think back at the time when a limping Oliphaunt crushed right behind you. Your wore no helmet and a piece of flying debris made a circular gash that bleed down your forehead. You remember now. Yes, you looked me right in the eyes and I aimed for your heart, but your beauty forced me to reconsider the path of my arrow. See, we the sons of the desert are hardly worth of your trusting care, my darling, and if you must trust someone in this world, trust your kin and your elders when they caution you not to bet your tomorrow on today's passion. You are fortunate to be immortal like the sunrise, do not reject it because you fear living forever. Trust me, dying is worse..." he gasped quietly, and drew away. Elladan kissed his forehead, inhaling his unique scent and faintly recalling the energized lovemaking on the ship's creaky floor and smiled. How ironic, how cruel fate was. Indeed, Fahrey was, must have been the dark-eyed Haradrim archer who embedded a nearly fatal arrow in Elladan's side. He nearly died in his father's arms then, and now by the grace or curse of the Valar he nearly gave his love to the man who nearly took his life. He kissed Fahrey again. The little rascal was a devilish lover with abilities and zeal unknown to men. He was playful and imaginative, yet shy and tight as a virgin. His body had feline elasticity and grace, and heavens, his feather-soft lips felt as if they were created for bestowing the most exquisite caresses upon Elladan's aching stem. There was no other like him, and Elladan had known many.
"Do not dare to insist on this foolishness," Fahrey read Elladan's thoughts, "death hurts, Elladan, it contaminates every part of the life that is remaining. See this," he opened his mouth slightly to reveal to terrified Elladan his ghastly bluish mouth and tongue.
"It poisons your food, your laugh, your kisses. It hurts to breath and smile. You do not want this. Do you understand?"
"Why didn't you tell me this was so serious," Elladan could no longer control his shaking hands that desperately gripped Fahrey's cool wrists. "You said it was merely an aching throat!"
"I wanted no pity from you my darling," Fahrey lovingly kissed Elladan's hand, holding it up to his heart, "I wanted no pity from anyone. Not my sire, not my brother, not you. I wanted to be a skilled warrior, to tame a wild Oliphaunt, to marry the wisest man, and to give my virginity to an elf. I have done all of them so my life was not lived in vain."
"So your hand is given to another?" Elladan chuckled nervously, caressing his lover's forearms, "is this why you choose to deny my love?"
"After all I told you you still insist on your feelings," Fahrey smiled, "that is simply remarkable. I am no better than the Orcs you slaughtered, and yet...I will say this: I married Sazaar for reasons other than love, Elladan," Fahrey continued, placing a finger onto the shocked elf's lips. "He is the wisest creature to walk the desert and he alone holds my last and only hope of curing this blackness that is consuming me. The caravan bound for the Reverie Oasis leaves at sunrise and I must go, if I wish to live, for only in that temple of frozen time can the grip of the black fever be broken."
"I cannot comprehend the extent of cruelty you must possess to tell me all this in such manner!" Elladan cried, taking a step back as his senses came to grasp the meaning of what has taken place. "You little murderer."
"You ought to be thankful for my honesty," Fahrey chuckled, "you were but a few words away from parting with your immortality for a mortal enemy."
"I am neither thankful nor relieved, you viper! Oh you should have killed me then, how must I live with dignity now that I tangled with your mean-spirited kind! What must I do now?" Elladan growled angrily, oblivious to Thranduil's ajar door and the two attentively listening ears.
"You will do what you came here for and leave this place without looking back. Now listen," Fahrey's cold hands grasped Elladan's heated face, "my family knows not of my marriage to Sazaar. There is no scheme of betrayal on their part, I have done it on my own. But take my advice before errors are made. Do not entertain yourself with any illusions of anonymity. There are watch-birds that soar above seas and they bring news of ships coming weeks before the ship throws its anchors in our waters. Sazaar senses you are here. He will come searching like a predator and he will strike at the weakest spot. You all mean well, but in your hearts you desire different things. He will smell that you aren't united and use it against you. Some of you wish to save his soul, others want to destroy him, before long you will be killing one another over his fate. Ask yourselves what it is you seek and for once in your long arrogant lives cease trying to satisfy your hungry egos. Farewell."
Elladan was at a loss for words. His thoughts were like a river of field mice, scattering in all directions. He watched Fahrey's shadow vanish in the pit of the dark staircase like a heated hallucination, and once again he was utterly alone. He felt shame burning, eating at him like acid. How gullible and helpless he turned out to be when faced with a clever adversary who did not use swords and arrows to defeat him. As if to taunt him further his memory produced a clear image of Fahrey as he aimed for Elladan's heart from the collapsed mound on the back of the great Mumak. A black cloth obscured his face and hair, but his piercing eyes stood out like black moons. They will now haunt him forever. Unaware of his own body he searched out the door to Elrohir's room.
"I don't want to see you!" Elrohir mumbled without opening his eyes. "Traitor." Elladan did not care. He cradled his gentle twin in his arms, burying his face in the other's hair, and he wept until the tears were exhausted about all that has come to pass. He then left a moist trail of kisses on Elrohir's trembling shoulders.
"Forgive me, if your grace is not yet exhausted. My stupidity is boundless as I found out."
"So you finally admit it," Elrohir whispered back, turning over to face Elladan in an unsure embrace. "The bond of blood is stronger than steel. Do not speak, come to me, I missed your touch." Elladan obeyed without hesitation. His quivering hand traced the outline of his twin's stomach. He leaned in to place a sensual kiss on each of Elrohir's hardening nipples as he moved down his brother's body. He pulled down and pushed aside the sleeping leggings and carefully grasped Elrohir's arousal. He begun to stroke the throbbing member with a sense of warming satisfaction at having reached the state of reconciliation he longed for deep inside. Smiling, he played with the clear drop of precum that oozed from the tip, tickling Elrohir's thighs and lower belly. Elrohir's body convulsed slightly from the delightful torture and soon his eyes searched out Elladan's gaze, demanding more. Elladan hastily tore off his own clothing, revealing his own hard and needy erection.
"Oil, body drops, anything to ease our passage?" Elrohir was already holding a slender bottle of a dark herbal essence.
"If it is made for the High King it must be truly exquisite," Elrohir smiled wickedly.
"You stole it?" Elladan grinned back, gently spreading his brother's legs and busily massaging the tight opening. He watched his twin grimace in pleasure as he inserted yet another finger. Elrohir begged incoherently, beckoning Elladan and pulling him on top of himself with his legs.
"He will have no use for it for some time," he exhaled, tensing against Elladan's intruding cock and melting in a strange weakness from the scent of the herbal extract his brother spread generously over his genitals. The concoction stung a little and the air felt cool where it touched the skin. Elladan felt the sensation as well, for he slowed his quick pumping rhythm to a more pleasurable slower motion. Groaning quietly he supported himself with one hand, caressing as much of Elrohir's body as he could with the other.
He abandoned the pleading lips of his twin and begun to nibble and tickle his brother's ears, pausing to suckle on the tips and to nuzzle his thick hair. Elrohir stroked his lover's sides with his legs, his body shifting beneath Elladan in constant search of yet another pleasure spot. No words broke the passionate silence for both twins were deep in the world of thought as their bodies merged into one. The strangely insistent scent of the mystery herb intensified as the time wore on and in the slowness of their lovemaking the twins soon realized its charming qualities. A sweaty hour passed into the next and still their breathing did not grow short and their genitals felt not a note of soreness. They tumbled and switched positions in a seemingly infinite dance until not long before sunrise both collapsed in mutual completion. Before falling asleep in his twin's arms Elladan saw a fleeting vision, a caravan of white figures floating slowly above the golden sand.
His flesh smelled of arrogance and passion, he was real, so close and so overpowering, and yet.he was a dream. Another one of the feverish fantasies the half-elf's mind manufactured as his body tensed in a midway state of dreaming and awareness. Elrond sat up abruptly. His fingers still felt Gil-Galad's luxurious hair, but his lips, his neck still bore the scent of the one who claimed him last evening. The half-elf looked through the squinted eyes at the lustrous sunrise that beat through the heavy draperies. What is this? He squeezed a simple yet elegant broach shaped as a fresh spring leaf in his hand. Its coloration and design were unmistakable.
"Where did you find this, you devil!" Elrond rose up to follow the lynx Selga to the window. In his mind an image of a ship, a gorgeous vessel painted white and shaped as a swan, flashed as a vision. He blinked, but the ocean waves were empty. Still, the Elven broach was in his hand, scratched a little by its previous wearer, but solid. Where would it have come from? His mind produced another vivid image, this time it was his brave Elrohir, walking somewhere with heated determination, and the broach snapped off, falling silently into the sand beneath his feet. Elrond gasped. "You are tricking me," he uttered in disbelief, but the eyes of the lynx were clear and unyielding. "Where did you find this?"
Elrond repeated to the great cat, but Selga was silent. "Will you show me?" he asked in a more cautious, negotiating tone, increasingly indignant at having to beg an animal for its graces. The lynx silently headed for the door and Elrond was eager to follow. Throwing a flowing white garment over his nude flesh he ran into the morning as if the devils were chasing him. Exiting into the main corridor he slowed his sprint to a proper gait, praying to the Valar that he would not encounter Sazaar. The gods were gracious, for he escaped the confines of the white walls unnoticed by anyone as the household stood strangely silent. Elrond found it disheartening, as a quiet before a storm, but at the moment he had no time to spend on considering the matter.
He followed the trail of Selga's large paws through the wet sand. The animal took great care to walk right on the waterline to ensure that in mere seconds the crushing waves would erase their trail. An eternity has passed, it seemed, before they reached the ghostly, abandoned bay surrounded by tall mountains of blowing sand. The sun beat mercilessly onto the barren surface, broken here and there by ivory skeletons and broken spears. Not long ago a battle between rivaling nomadic tribes fed pools of blood to the thirsty sands, but now nothing more disturbed the perfect quietude. Only the rusted blades stood witness to the dead. Some distance from the shore of the shallow bay, white as the bones of the dead warriors, floated the elegant Elven vessel that came to the half-elf in his vision. A few men were seen on the docks, busily attending to their duties.
"This cannot be!" Elrond exclaimed aloud, fascinated and frightened at the prospects the ship's presence suggested. It wasn't a farfetched plan, the sailing rout has been established centuries earlier, and with abundant resources of his household his sons could easily carry out such a bold move. His exhilarated sense of hope quickly turned into apprehension. "The naive pups," he hissed under his breath, "they know not what they are facing. He will eat them both alive and force me to watch! Oh this is not a good turn, bad move, lousy planning, I cannot believe Gil-Galad had the poor sense to permit this idiotic quest of heroism! Fools!" Elrond mumbled, sliding down the dune, closer to the water.
"Indeed, but sometimes even the wise succumb to madness," the captain said rising up from the spot where he rested, sunning himself. Elrond did not recognize him at once, for maritime travel and human tendency to age had altered his features significantly, but his voice was still crisp and mocking. He has heard it before. "So you are the prized creature for whom we all risked feeding the sea monsters?" the captain laughed, brushing sand off his ragged garb.
"Look!" Elrond raised his arms to the man's face, "do you see heavy shackles burrowing into my skin? Do you see me starved and mistreated, pleading like a helpless maiden to be rescued?" he nearly screamed, shaking in anger. "I asked not for your reckless intrusion."
"Oh I have no doubt of that being true," the captain's wrinkled mouth stretched in a toothy smile, "you seem to have adopted rather well. But see, your king, and your sons, are all creatures of great pride, my lord. Arrogance and jealousy are a terrible terrible combination."
"You must be testing my sanity! He came along with my sons? Where are they, sir," Elrond growled through clenched teeth, forcing himself to maintain distance. "Where is Elrohir and Elladan?"
"In the city, my lord, I believe they have secured shelter with the old pearl trader Izhmier and his sons. Fahrey and Irzen, I believe." For the first time in the countless days that have come to pass since he last slumbered in his picturesque Rivendell Elrond felt close to panic. He was at perfect ease living in the land of sworn enemies, he was not phased by the roar of the great lynx and the emptiness of the desert, endless miles away from what he has ever known. Even Sazaar's mysterious and at times terrifying nature no longer sent chills down his spine. But he was scared now, so much so that his breaths grew uneven. "I suggest you find them then," the captain stared at the half-elf with bleak emotionless eyes, "before your master does."
"Funny how you are so predictable," Sazaar smirked as he greeted
Elrond at the back gate, his lips spread in the so familiar smile of a cobra. "Still like an open book." The half-elf nodded back, responding briefly as his mind raced with questions. Sazaar's features revealed nothing, there was no anger or agitation, only the kind of cold and deadly placidity that marked a determined mind. His garb was dark and formal, despite the early hour, and the blades of battle hung beneath his outer robe. For the first time in many moons Sazaar wore his midriff protector, the one piece of armor no Haradrim warrior ever left behind before facing rival spears. He was preparing for war.
"I seek to hide nothing," Elrond motioned for Sazaar to follow him. He spoke in the most casual, yet cold tone. Elrond felt that from the moment he rested his eyes on the fated ship that carried his precious sons within Sazaar's killing range, the terms of his relationship with the desert man have irreversibly altered. He could no longer lazily entertain the idea of escaping while sharing wine and a hearty laugh with his captor, and he could no longer will away the sense of guilt he sensed each time he failed to stop Sazaar's caressing touches. Whatever binds of spiteful admiration he has developed for the man now disintegrated into memories. Sazaar was the enemy, and they were at war.
"You need not be a great observer to note that I take walks every morning," Elrond continued as they silently stepped over the cold stone of the wide crescent terrace, "I sincerely hope the wines in your cellar are chilled, as I need compensation for the time I spent in this wicked heat."
"I thought you never travel beyond the borders of our bay."
"Have I?" Elrond raised his eyebrow in forged surprise.
"Cold wind from the ocean keeps heat away from my estate, midnight. The only way you would have gotten so sweaty is if you ventured into the desert land beyond."
"Tell me something," Elrond begun as calmly as he could, realizing that Sazaar was fully aware of his earlier trip, "those vultures," he pointed to the pair of massive dark birds that seemed to hang in the clear air, "why do they return to circle above your household and then disappear once again?" Sazaar stopped and took another long, contemplative look at the half-elf.
"They are not vultures," Sazaar finally said. "They are seeing eagles. They come back each time they see a ship headed for Bazhisha-Dar. And yes, there is plenty of chilled wine in my cellar," he added. "Enough to drown any unexpected guests."
Elrond swallowed hard, looking away to conceal his uncertainty. Think! He ordered himself. The eagles. It means only that Sazaar knows a ship has arrived, but he cannot possibly know of its origin or its crew's purpose. Bazhisha-Dar lies on crossroads of major sailing routs, dozens of ships set their anchors here each season. He cannot know that my sons are here, but why such heavy armor in such peaceful times?
"Oh, for the sake of all gods to ever curse this land," Sazaar growled suddenly, turning his flashing eyes ablaze with rage to the half-elf who froze from the unexpected explosion of temper, "I swear, if it was not for your condition I would have taught you a chastity lesson you would not forget so long as you live!" He advanced toward Elrond, his upper lip raised in an animal scowl, and a deep, guttural growl of the distant Uruk-hai lineage awakened somewhere in his lower throat. "You think I wouldn't have discovered him!"
"Wait a minute," Elrond raised a hand in protest.
"She needs no assistants to defend her case!" Sazaar pushed past Elrond and headed for his victim, who helplessly searched for means of escape. Elrond blinked, attempting to understand what took place, but what he heard only added to his confusion. "Who is he!"
Sazaar hissed, grasping the pregnant girl Amaye in his carnivorous grip. "Tell me on your own will, or I swear, I will beat it out of you!"
Elrond stared hard at the unfolding drama. He has not seen the young woman since the day she first came into his sleeping room and her existence has almost slipped his memory. He knew so little about her, nothing almost, except that Sazaar considered her to be his only heir and guarded her with vigilance of a hawk.
"I do not know, lord, master, I pleaded with you, I beg for your mercy!" The maiden disintegrated into regretful tears, her hair falling every which way, cascading past her shoulders and onto her hot face. "I do not know!"
"Amaye," Sazaar's softened his tone a little, "you try my patience unnecessarily and you of all others know that tears will not dampen my resolve! I raped before, my dear, and was equally a victim of the same heinous crime, and I will never believe that a woman burdened with a child whose sire took her by force would be as content and hopeful as you are! He was your lover and you know his identity well. A name, my lady," he shook her forcefully, "and I will settle it without spilling blood." Amaye remained defiantly silent. "My patience is exhausted!" he said seriously.
"With both of you!" With deadly resolve gleaming in his suddenly calm eyes he gripped her hair and forced her to walk forward with him, giving Elrond a warning stare as he passed. "They have come, have they not?" Sazaar continued spitefully. Both Elrond and the girl drew in their breath. "I have known this, for months, but I wanted to hear it from your mouth. Why so glum, my dear girl? You are going to have a wedding of a queen!"
"He will never marry me."
"Oh, do not be so haste!" Sazaar laughed, dragging her down the stairs, "your most adored Irzen is a coward! Think he will dare to defy me? He pleasured himself well with your body, and he ran, leaving you in disgrace. He will marry you, or his flesh will become my next night's dinner." The girl gasped in surprise.
"Yes, yes indeed.I have been feeling like manflesh recently."
Elrond considered momentarily the confusing chain of events that unfolded before him as his forehead wrinkled in worry and his gut curled up in a tight knot. Is he playing with my mind? Tricking me with words and random gestures, trying to trap me with my own responses? Elrond waited a moment before the realization came over him like a wall of forest fire. Wait a minute. Irzen sired this ill-fated child? Irzen, the eldest son of lord Izhmier, the very man who opened his house to Elladan and Elrohir. Worse yet, to Gil-Galad. Elrond took in another labored breath, heartbeats away from fainting. The gods were not kind after all. Sazaar, angry and armed, was headed to the household where the twins and Gil-Galad resided, and only the Valar knew if his fosterling's failed love affair was Sazaar's true reason for the visit. Was he settling a matter of honor or was he seeking something else? Sazaar paused for a moment before pushing Amaye out the elegant bronze gate. He gave Elrond a strange, meaningful stare, as if to see if the half-elf would run after him, trying to stop him, but the peredhel did not move. With each bit of his strength he willed his body to be still and his expression confident, while his worried eyes helplessly followed Sazaar's figure until it vanished out of sight. He could do nothing without aggravating the situation. If it was the will of the Valar that Sazaar meet Gil-Galad tonight, then it was the fate none can alter.
Elrohir stirred from a fleeting sense of worry. It was midday, the sun was angry and vigorous, lighting up the stuffy air in the room. A peculiar haze of poisonous tranquility hung over the luxurious canopy bed upon which the twins slumbered, their bodies still intertwined and coated with light dew of sweat from the previous night's hours of lovemaking. Elladan lazily laid his heavy arm over Elrohir's hips, possessively massaging his left buttock and beckoning his twin back into his embrace.
"Rest with me," he mumbled irately, sinking his face back into the feathery pillow, "the world will have its chance to get the best of us. Don't go." But Elrohir, overwhelmed with anxiety, could not settle back to sleep. An unexplained calling nagged at him, and soon he forced himself out of the bed. He bathed briskly in a chain of suspended bathtubs that received their water from underground icy springs, and dressing up he carelessly tied back his still moist hair. He eyed the leather harness and the sword attached to it with tired, poorly focused eyes, but he chose to leave the sword behind, fearing that with such weakness overcoming him he may injure himself with his own blade. He cautiously descended into the elaborate lower hall, followed by a trail of servants who silently offered him exotic pastries and steaming breakfast meat. He smiled at the maid who brought him harsh green tea and asked to speak with the estate's master. The short maiden hastily retreated. Meanwhile Elrohir paced nervously back and forth, examining the splendid collection of weapons and paintings on the craftily carved walls of the dwelling.
"Lord Izhmier!" Elrohir chocked on his drink. He heard dishes breaking and loud breath being drawn. The usually bustling household froze in silence. So long as he lived he would not forget that voice and he did not dare to turn or move as he stood in his hiding place, in a darkened spot between a massive column and the armory wall. Few feet away Sazaar snorted in impatience. "My time is golden!" he shouted, advancing menacingly through the room.
"Irzen, coward, come face me like a man!"
Elrohir felt a tingling sensation in his lower groin. No, the beast has not changed since last they met. He seemed a bit shorter, but no less intimidating with his feline stalk and the thick mane of unruly auburn hair pinned up high with two miniature spears. Elrohir could sense the roaring vibration in his throat, could hear his jaws grind against one another as the haunting amber eyes searched the room for his victim. You cursed animal, Elrohir narrowed his eyes in resentment, remembering the smile of his beloved Ada whom he missed so desperately. If only I had my sword, or a blade of any kind, I would have.Sazaar suddenly stopped. Without turning his head he drew in the air, his ear shifted a little and his full lips spread in a small smile. Elrohir tensed in preparation, but Sazaar sharply turned in the opposite direction as Lord Izhmier ran in through open doors at the other end of the hall. He was the very opposite of what Elrohir expected to see in a Haradrim merchant who in his time had made a fortune in the mercenary trade. His eyes were wide and slightly slanted, and in the expression of his open and almost humorously innocent face there was not a drop of malice or hidden intent. He was a man of great intelligence, however, and immediately spotted Elrohir's shadow on the white floor.
"Lord Council, may your graces protect our city eternally!" the man exclaimed excitedly, beckoning Sazaar away from Elrohir's hiding place. "To what joyous occasion do we owe your visit!"
"See this?" Sazaar called to the young woman who trailed him silently. He squeezed her in a gentle embrace, lovingly petting her pregnant belly.
"Oh. Well of course, I must.congratulate you." Izhmier's wide smile faded as he finally picked up on the pernicious vibe. He blinked oddly, as though considering the plausibility of the claim.
"Your eldest son," Sazaar begun innocently, "they mature too fast, do they not? Seems like mere days ago he stole olives from the tree in my garden and now." His smile turned into a scow.
"He laid with her. Now, he marries her, or I consume his flesh, while he is still alive to feel the pain." The kind features of the hospitable old man grew pale and daunted. He nervously plucked at his short black beard, avoiding the eyes of his guest. He whispered something to a maid on his right. "What's the matter, my old friend, am I not welcomed in your household anymore?" Sazaar said, releasing the girl from his grasp and walking slowly to greet the man. "Your house is full of strange scents," he added suggestively, "and the fresh flowers, such rarity in our oasis surrounded by sands. Decorations worthy of kings." Sazaar came within a hand stretch of the old master and glared in his yielding eyes. "Wise men value their neutrality above riches," he said matter-of-factly, "so count your gains and risks well Lord Izhmier, I do not give second chances to those who plot behind my back."
"You called for me." Irzen appeared behind his sire, his dark eyes flashing with fury. He was still in his bathing robes, and openly unarmed, but he walked up to face Sazaar as though an army of one thousand strong marched behind him. "You aren't welcome beneath this roof," he said coldly, "and whatever business you bring-"
Sazaar gripped the young man throat with such harshness that his fingernails dug into the flesh. He would have broken his neck if girl's pleading cries didn't change his resolve. "Make your preparations," he growled, forcing Irzen on his knees in front of Amaye. "You have one day and one night to seek ritual blessings and announce your wedding to all who care to know. This is your home until you wed Amaye, but you will always be welcome in mine. As for you Irzen, remember that defiance hurts. Greatly." Having finished his intended business Sazaar prepared to leave, but before he did so he paused for a second, turning to stare straight at the space where Elrohir stood, breathing hard and boiling with anger. Sazaar smiled again, nodding his head, almost inviting Elrohir to follow. But he cannot see me, the young elf thought, unsure of his own ability to resist. He is challenging me, mocking me almost.
"My lord, I ask that you take your leave," Lord Izhmier said diplomatically. "Excuse an old man for his need of rest."
"Rest well, then." Sazaar winked and vanished through the doors. Elrohir was flooded with emotion, unexplained, raging currents of emotion he could not suppress. Weeks, months of slow seething anger, dozens of nights filled with dreams of taking revenge on the man who so unceremoniously came between his father and the family, all that which troubled and frightened him now materialized in the physical form he could touch. And kill. As a young animal driven by some unexplained instinct Elrohir fled from his hiding spot and raced through the hall, following the trail of his enemy.
"Have you lost your wits!" Izhmier caught him in midair, steadying the elf with his sturdy hands.
"He did not see me!" Elrohir fought defiantly. "What harm is there in taking a further look? I will follow him carefully, I swear. I thank you, for your worry. I do. But I need to face him. You do not understand what all this has done to me! To all of us! This scoundrel has taken away the only parent I had left! Since father vanished everything soured, there is isolation and silence among us, like a glass wall we cannot see or bridge! I am not afraid of him."
"Child, madness is no way to fight malice! Stop and listen to me, he recognized your scent. He knows you by it, and-" Elrohir finally broke free. He heard the man yell after him, but at the point he'd reached it no longer matter. He didn't exactly know where he was going, or why it suddenly mattered so much, or what, if anything would he even do if he did encounter Sazaar face to face. Yet, a glowing hope of catching a glimpse of his father spurred him on. Rushing out into the crowded street he halted, disoriented by vivid colors and the hundreds of moving figures. Dust rose in high clouds and most walkers had their faces partially concealed with veils and light scarves to prevent the dirt from entering their mouths. It was a foreign world indeed. With strange animals carrying goods and riders, wild spotted cats resting on sunny corners, and groups of thin, short-legged dogs that chased kids around. There was so much motion, colorful fabric and texture that it seemed impossible to find anyone in the flowing river of shapes and faces. What a fascinating sight. Elrohir walked on slowly, keeping his eyes squinted and gazing around like a lost child. Poor soul, Sazaar smiled, rising up from his resting place on the large rock. He followed the young elf with little precaution, sometimes coming so close that he brushed against Elrohir in the crowd, but the young elf remained unaware, confident that he was following, not being followed.
Having waved his way through a labyrinth of narrow streets Elrohir suddenly took notice of strange silence that surrounded him. The noise of the main road grew distant.
"You desired to see me." Sazaar finally made his presence known. Elrohir turned abruptly, only to find himself pinned to the wall and staring into the abyss of the amber eyes that for so long had given him nightmares. "Shall we talk, my little one?"
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