Of Elves and Men
There is a beauty to your kind, though not many of my blood would share that sentiment. We are too still, as a race, too often serene, compelled by only what we find familiar. In my time, however, I have journeyed long, I have seen much. There is as much beauty in a raging fall of water as in a serene and still pool. To me, perhaps even more in that great thunderous watery plummet, the violence of its motion, the suddenness of its course. The granite at its base is worn away more quickly than pebbles in a pond, change unstoppable, inevitable, too full of hot blood to hold it inside.
It is a trial for us, a punishment. The burden of men that we will only shoulder willingly, in battle or in love. It is not that we fear it, you see. But there is an inertia to our lives that is not like to the pendulum of men's hearts, the motion of age and death and years. In Rivendell are kept the shards of a broken sword, but men, and most of all, you, are the ones who keep the shattering of it.
Even now, at rest, you are in motion. Cadence like walking or dancing, the beat and scrape of the whetstone against your blade, the counterpoint tune under your breath as you sing your steel to sharpness. You do not rest, you do not light, like a hummingbird. Man is only still in death.
We must seem like death to you, in our slowness.
But perhaps not. There is the sparkle of elf-jewel at your throat, gleaming like a star in the dark frame of your collar. You love one of us, do you not? Mortal men have coveted elf-maids, but often only for their beauty. In my youth, I did not understand it. I thought, surely, for men to love an elf is like to loving a mountain, to loving the sea. How can one have passion for a thing so ageless? I considered my race beyond the grasp of something so brief as men. But I know now that there is an attraction in difference, the same force as water shaping rock, or stone honing steel. And you are not like other men.
"So thoughtful, Legolas?"
Your motion has stopped. And I, even looking at your hands, had not noticed. I may even have been dreaming, as my kind do, eyes still open and seeing.
"Forgive me." There is little maintenance required on my bow, the nearly emptied quiver refilled, awaiting the end of our respite and the continuation of our journey. But my hunting knife has lost its edge, and it would seem I have lost my whetstone. "I must have been staring." The stone is resting on the moss amid the tree roots I am using for a seat, hidden by the toe of my boot. When had I let it slip though my fingers? I must have been drowsing indeed.
"No matter." You check the edge with your eyes and not your fingers, knowing sharp from dull in the way the steel thins to invisibility. "This place is one that breeds thoughts." The weapon is sheathed, carefully, with respect. "Solace we much need before continuing."
"Even you?" I am smiling, I know. It is the smallest of us who bear the greatest burdens, whose need for rest is most desperate. You and I, old friend, could sleep in our cloaks on stony ground as well as in mossy elven bowers.
"Even I am fond of my comforts, Legolas." You stand and stretch your legs, three quick strides around the leafy garden. "And my pipe weed was low."
I laugh, it seems, more often around mortal-friends. Not that elves lack for mirth; we have our own forms of gaiety. But the humor of men is somehow unexpected, catching me off guard as surely as an unrhymed couplet. "You'll not find any here, I'm sure."
"Pity." You shake out your hair and pull it back, three twists of a leather thong and a deft movement of your fingers. A nod, to the knife still in my hands. "Your blade wanting for attention?"
"None that I can give." I sheathe the dagger and put it aside. "I've no mind to sharpen steel with a heavy heart."
"Or a distracted eye," you say shrewdly. "You'll be down to nothing but the hilt, if you let your mind wander. And thoughts of elves, I've found, are particularly lengthy."
"As is our nature. Men do not--" you pour a chalice of water and drink it down, emptying your glass, "linger."
"Know you so much of men, Legolas?" Mischief in your eye, a darker glint. It suits you, softening the grimness about your mouth. You close the space between us with the grace of one used to walking as a means of getting somewhere, not as a simple motion. It is clear to me suddenly that you thought yourself too far from me, and so, in one economical movement, put yourself closer. I am not certain what to think of that, nor what I should think of your fingers to my hair, tracing the smooth plait at my temple.
"This is a curious pattern. Native to your elves of Mirkwood?"
"As far as I know, we often dress our hair as such."
We have slept together frequently, back to back in the snow and under one blanket. I have pressed close to you, crouched in narrow rock ledges to wait out downpours, my nose full of the scent of men and wet leather. It did not cause the same sensation as your hand against my hair, smoothing your thumb along the small sleek braid.
"I am unfamiliar with it." There is less laughter in your voice now, it has taken on a curious quietness. "It is a clever trick, to keep hair from your eyes. I would learn the doing of it."
A shrug brings my shoulder against your arm, and I wonder if it is like this to feel mortal, blood running sudden and unexpectedly through one's veins. "It is simple to learn. I could--"
A curious raveling feeling, and the cadence of your breath.
"Easier to see myself how it is done... ah, I think I have the way of it." Your hands are deft, as if you wove such plaits all your life. "It holds with no band? Remarkable." You sigh, and I shiver in the warm bower. "I would shave mine off, but for cold and my Lady's threats to shave me one closer."
"and you would look a most odd man indeed. Men grow bald swiftly enough, I should think." There, I have startled a real laugh out of you, though you do not release my braid. And, I do not wish for you to.
"Elves must think us lumbering as orcs, with our quick flame of life. I am surprised you keep company with us."
"Not so." And it is my voice now quiet. "there is beauty in all things, even to be found in Orcs. A way of moving, a slide of muscle, it is all worth note. Besides, were Orcs not once Elves?"
"Aye, brother." Sorrow, as if those long lost were your own kin. "Though few of your kind speak of it."
You do not realize, speaking of our grief, that you have slipped into our tongue. "Which is not to say," I find myself amending, "that you not more pleasing in manner and appearance. After all, I know of no mortal or elf to love an orc, yet you have won the hand of my fair lady Arwen."
Your free hand drifts to the gem strung around your throat, but something in your eyes is disbelieving. "To my surprise, I am certain."
"Think you it such a rare thing?" I have never feared to look any man or elf in the eye, but it is perhaps not as easy to do so now. "Elves find beauty in men, as well." I feel myself smile at my daring. "Much more than orcs."
A smile, but brief, along your eyes. "And yet..." You seem to be unaware, my lord, that your fingers have left my hair, and slide now along my jawbone. "I wonder what you may see in us."
"No more," the palm of your hand is rough from a sword's grip, moving warm along the column of my neck, pushing my collar aside, "than we find in you. A difference; a curiosity." You lift the weight of my hair, cradling the back of my head in your hands.
"Have you a curiosity, Legolas? For difference?"
Your breath smells faintly of spring water and pipe smoke, strange and compelling. I find I crave the taste of it, as surely as mortals must crave Rings. "Elves do not lie, Aragorn."
"Nor," You say, and I can feel the heat of you against my mouth, "do some men."
Elves do not often kiss. That is to say, we do not much kiss out of passion. More frequently it is a gesture of loyalty, of friendship, of brotherhood. As life was breathed into us from the mouth of Illuvátar, we are reluctant to mimic it in mere desire. But that, I find, is in the minds of elves, and men with their short memories have no such holds on kisses. Elves I know have denied themselves some pleasures for the sake of history, and in your mouth I find that there is more than fealty in a press of lips, one to another. It is beyond simple intimacy, like a flare of light along the senses. To have the feel and taste of you on my tongue is immediate, salt and blood and spicesmoke and cool water, mortal and dying and still alive, more alive than elves must ever feel, your heartbeat insistent against my chest. I could not say when I stood up, my height a match for yours, my fingers undoing the hard work of your hair tie.
I wonder what it must feel like to be a man. Is there always this urgency, this desperation? I find it now in my own hands, in pulling lacings free to touch your chest, wondering at the soft down of hair that Elves lack. Men must find it exhausting, just being Men. It is no wonder their lives are short.
"Well now," you say, the kiss only just incomplete, breathing your words into me. "is your curiosity sated, Legolas?"
There are old scars on your skin, many and varied, in a maze of time and pain beneath my fingertips. "I would not leave a thing half-learned," I say, and laugh into your shoulder. "Are you a master, then, to school me?"
"Hmph." An arch of eyebrow, trouble in your smile. "If elves can be taught, that is." The clasp of my collar is long since undone, and the forest air is warm on my exposed throat. To an enemy, it would mean certain death, but the only weapon you bring to bear on me is your callused fingertip, down the gap in my garments to my belly, and back up again. "What do you hope to learn?"
"My lord Aragorn," I say, crisply. "You yourself have spoken of the mistrust between Elves and Men, and how to end the rift of distance. I would think that my desire to study the ways of Men would be an admirable enterprise, in your eyes."
My tunic comes off my shoulders, pushed to my elbows. Still half laced and held by my belt, it proves a sturdy binding for my arms, pinning them to my sides. "Legolas," you say, your rough cheek to my smooth one, "I find your desire very admirable indeed."
And I have lost the battle of wit, for I can find no parry to your advance, only to let my breath seep out of me as your mouth lingers on my ear, as if marveling at the shape of it. I had not thought that you would find me as intriguing as I you, my friend. The heat of your tongue as it moves over my skin sends waves of sensation focusing into a central, insistent ache, need licking at all my corners like a fire consuming vellum.
"I would touch you," I say, straining a little against the bonds of my tunic. It is both apology and a hint, but I should know that you are aware of my predicament.
"I would look at you as you are," you say, breathing your scent in to my hair. "If you grant me your leave, as I would think you do, for if you wished escape then neither elf-wove fabric nor my hands could hold you. "
"I wish no escape," I say, leaning my head back against the tree trunk, "Only fair return."
"You shall have it," you promise, broad palms sliding down my sides. "but only when I have had my fill of looking at you."
My laugh, I fear, is weak, shivering with your attention to my skin. "Am I such to look at?"
Both your hands come to my face, and your eyes study mine a long moment. "In all your knowledge, do you not know? You are like a feast of the senses, Legolas. The taste of you, the feel of you, the smell of your hair is like a stand of aspens, your words sound like raindrops on green leaves, can you not know this?"
I am speechless. Men are prone to flattering Elves, in the same rote of uninventive metaphor, but never have fairer words been spoken to me, not so honestly. "I--"
"Hush, Legolas." You kiss me. "Your skin is seduction enough, your voice will overwhelm me. Be still, and let me touch you."
And so I am still, as obedient as I can be, for your attentions are unique, and I cannot help but shudder. You mouth leaves faint wetness that vanishes into the air with a still kind of coolness, sharp contrast to the heat of wherever else your lips may be, on collar or breast or navel. Your swordbuckle is hot from being pressed between us, and causes the most intricate ache as it pushes against me, and I find I crave more than such accidental attention. My hips must betray me, forced so longingly against you, and I could weep for the mercy of your hand, even felt through deer leather.
Your voice is amused, but full of breath, as if you have been sparring. "I did not know all Elves could burn with such a passion."
"How cold-blooded do you think us?" I gasp. Your hand tightens, and my tunic will need mending when this encounter is over, for surely a seam just gave. "Aragorn. Mercy, Brother. We haven't Men's endurance for such things."
"Mercy?" You consider. "I am not a man to neglect a friend when he asks for mercy. So," I can feel my breeches give way, and cool breeze on burning skin. "Mercy you shall have."
And you kneel, as pledging your allegiance, and give me such mercy as you know to give.
It is nothing, nothing, that Elves have ever even considered, I am sure. Men have inventive minds, and think in ways less abstract, more practical. So while we might, if prompted, have admitted that such a thing could be done, it would certainly not occur to us to do it.
I think I say your name, though for certain you cannot answer. The world lies in the frame of your lips, all sensation locked only on the motion of your tongue, as a notched arrow onto its target. Mercy was never given in a manner so sweet. It is hot, and somehow wetter than any tumbling stream or still pool, burning as summer sunlight through leaves,
No word in any language I know could give rightful voice to the wild pleasure of it. I had thought the kiss intimate, but it was only a shadow of this, and echo of something so primal and yet almost innocent in its adoration, in its generosity.
It is very much like you, my friend.
I submit to it, my hands longing to steady myself on your shoulders, but you must know, for you hold me with your hands on my belt. If I thought I could make it last I would, but this is one part of us that is as mortal as you, and as fleeting. Surely I think you will not drink of me, yet your mouth tightens greedily as I spill myself into you, my lips giving voice to some wordless cry. Am I such a pleasant draught, Aragorn? You drink me as if I was wine. But I am a flagon soon emptied, I fear, and weakness shudders in my thighs.
You know, and catch me, rising smoothly to your feet and offering your shoulder for my forehead. You pull my tunic back in place, freeing my arms, and smooth back fine hairs clinging to my flushed face.
"What think you of the ways of Men, Legolas?"
I have only just caught my breath. "You know little of Elves, if you expect a fair answer so soon."
Your laughter is a marvel, with you so close. "I thought you'd be one to keep your wits about you. Keep your counsel, then, and let me fetch some wine."
I think it is for both of us, but you have only one chalice, and you offer it to me. I must look inquisitive, for you shake your head.
"I'll not lose the taste of you so soon."
"Have I so fair a flavor?" The wine is the finest of Lothlorien, for her nine guests. But my thirst would not be choosy, and my cup is soon empty. "So different from that of men?"
Your face has a sudden seriousness. "As different as night from day, or earth from sky." You look away, westward. "Strange, for even elves who have dwelled in the woods as long as long as you and your kin," Your eyes return to mine, "you still taste of the sea."
I am not at all certain what to say to that. "You promised fair return, Aragorn." I remind.
"So I did." You bend to retrieve your sword. "But the sun is failing, and perhaps bed and candlelight would serve your endeavors better?"
"I have no protest." I gesture to the alcove where you and I may take our rest, and our time. "Nights in Lothlorien are long ones, and not always spent in sleep or song."
"And perhaps, Legolas," you say slyly, "I'll have my answer from you after all."
My only counter is to smile. We have known long how to keep our ways from Men, and only dawn will know if I have sung them to you. But I think that when we take up our journey again, it will be each with a secret of the other.
Sojourners still, but not strangers.