Thranduil of Mirkwood sat on a bench in the snow covered garden in Imladris, contemplating a group of over-active and rowdy elflings at play in the first snowfall of the winter. His mood was as far removed from the holiday spirit as it was possible to get without actually involving giant spiders or orcs.
The last place he wanted to be was in this claustrophobic valley with its broad mix of people and rather eccentric lord, but the agreement between the three realms was very clear: every fifth year, each would take a turn to host the Midwinter Moon festivities, and the rulers of the other two, and those members of their court whom they could beg, persuade, threaten or drag along, were required to make the vastly inconvenient journey to attend the celebration.
The first had been held in Mirkwood, which had been inconvenient enough, as it had been necessary to put on the best possible show despite the very difficult times the forest Kingdom was undergoing. The following had been in Lórien, which he had been exempted from attending. It was the year he had buried his lady, after she had fallen victim to the darkness that crept ever closer and closer, her body shattered, her bright spirit dimmed, drawn away until such time as lord Námo saw fit to allow her rebirth in the blessed lands. If such a thing was permitted to the Silvan folk, that is.
One of the gifts she had left him, besides precious memories, had been a small, blue eyed, fair haired child, their son, who had taken so much of his time and attention that he had dealt with his mourning with an efficiency that occasionally stunned him, leaving him with feelings of guilt and unworthiness. However, one look into his son’s clear, open little face would normally be sufficient to push aside all doubts.
That was the problem, of course. The laws of Mirkwood were crystal clear; under no circumstances could father and son travel out of their land together. The risk to both monarch and heir from a single orc attack or other disaster was unacceptable. Therefore, at this time of year when families spent cherished time together, he was here in Imladris, with its wealth and art and culture and mix of traditions, and his son remained behind at home to experience all the trappings of a proper Midwinter Moon.
He looked sourly at the group shrieking in the snow. Two of them he recognised – Elrond’s twin boys, mirror images, and the main perpetrators of the uproar. Their greeting to him had been far from reassuring. As he had entered their father’s home – which had the unwieldy name of The Last Homely House – they had charged up to him while he stood there brushing off the snow from his cloak and hair, a little blinded by the light after days outdoors on horseback, and, one on either side, demanded to know if he had brought any spiders for them to hunt down and kill.
He had been rescued fairly swiftly by Councillor Erestor, who was an old acquaintance, all silken black hair and amber eyes and wasp-like tongue, whose rather scandalous relationship with a certain reborn former inhabitant of Gondolin offered proof that intelligence did not necessarily equal common sense.
He had taken the young offenders each by the scruff of the neck, walked them back and away, and suggested in a silky tone filled with nameless menace that they might like to greet his Majesty, their father’s guest, as they had been trained. They had transformed immediately into two well bred, exquisitely mannered elven princelings, who had bowed, greeted and then, with a mutual, sidelong look to Erestor, fled.
Erestor had murmured something about seasonal high spirits, before calling someone to direct him to his room so that he could tidy up before dinner. Which had been interminable, followed by several hours of musical entertainment in the so-called Hall of Fire. All this despite the fact that he had been in the saddle for days and longed to sleep. The other guest of honour, Celeborn of Lórien, all turned out in blue and silver, looked very settled and content with life, but then he had travelled there alone, and this was no doubt a holiday for him in more senses than one. Lady Galadriel never left the Golden Wood.
The next day had seen the king outside almost as soon as breakfast was over, long before anyone could think of something ‘interesting’ for him to do. He found a bench that seemed just the right distance from the house to offer solitude, but he hadn’t foreseen his peace being invaded by a swarm of younglings who were probably counting on that very distance to give them freedom from adult supervision. He was just about ready to get up and leave, when he heard a voice behind him.
“You look the way I feel. Pissed off and ready for home.”
Turning, he found himself looking up at an elf in the black and grey of Lórien. He was no more than medium height, with a slightly rounded face, a haughty mouth, light eyes, and hair that was of a shade close to silver gilt. He carried two large goblets, one of which he extended to Thranduil. “Eggnog of some kind, I think,” he explained. “I saw you sitting here and thought you looked as though you could do with one of these.”
Thranduil took it, blinking. The elf, he realised, obviously had no idea who he was, which was unusual but not impossible. He had very few dealings with Lórien – as little as could be managed, in fact – and this morning he was casually dressed. He had no recollection of seeing this elf the previous night. In fact, if he had done so, he was quite sure he would have remembered. He was – quite unusual.
The stranger sat down next to him, uninvited, and tilted his goblet in Thranduil’s direction in salute, before taking a large mouthful of the contents. Thranduil followed suit, and ended up coughing and spluttering. “What…what in Arda is in this…?!” he managed to get out, as the other patted him obligingly on the back.
“Pretty liberally laced with dwarf brandy,” his companion explained. “An Imladrian tradition. I’m sorry, I would have mentioned it but you looked like someone who could manage well enough.”
Thranduil bristled immediately at the implication. “I would hope my head for strong drink is as good as any from the Golden Wood,” he said, taking a more careful swallow of the potent brew.
The Lórien elf settled back, turning his attention to the young ones playing in the snow. “Well, at least some of us are having a good time,” he said. “Those are my brothers. The older one is Orophin, and the little one is called Rúmil.” He pointed as he spoke to a pair with hair so light as to be almost white in the winter sunlight.
“You brought them with you?” Thranduil asked in surprised. The little one looked about the same age as Legolas, and slightly built. He knew it was a hard, risky journey from Lórien to Imladris.
The other paused for a moment, then said in a more serious voice, “My duties brought me here, in service to my lord. My parents are…no longer with us, and it felt wrong to leave those two in the care of others at this time of the year. My lord was most generous and suggested I bring them along if Rúmil could withstand the journey.”
The duo must have somehow been aware they were being discussed, because they turned as one and appeared to notice their brother for the first time. They came charging over, their footprints barely leaving an indent in the snow, vying with one another in shouting, “Haldir, Haldir…” followed by inarticulate explanations of what a very good time there was to be had in Imladris after all.
Haldir made a kind of growling sound, and the noise tailed off. The older brother was about to launch into a clearer explanation of why he had said no when the twins had invited them to submit to being buried in the snow, but the younger one, Rúmil, interrupted.
“’aldir? Who that?” he demanded, pointing a small, slender finger at Thranduil, his light green eyes very wide in his small face. Thranduil had no idea what to say – he had a feeling that telling them he was the king of Mirkwood would put rather a damper on the high spirits of these two young ones. He was saved from having to lie by Haldir, who said very firmly,
“Rúmil, this is a friend of mine, and you’re being rude. Say sorry, at once.”
The face fell, the eyes looked down, then swept back up again and a small voice said, “Sorry for rude.”
Thranduil found himself smiling spontaneously. He reached out and ran a finger over silky hair, very like his son’s in texture. “That’s well enough,” he said gently. “I have a boy about your size – also full of curiosity.” Granted, Legolas would never express the curiosity in such an open way. His mother’s death had left him quiet and soft spoken in the extreme, and he had developed a slightly drawn look to his face when he was worried, which hurt his father’s heart.
“Are your wife and son with you?” Haldir asked in a neutral voice. Thranduil shook his head.
“My mate was killed in an attack – my son did not share the journey with me this time. Perhaps when he is a little older…”
Haldir nodded. “I understand that. I was in two minds about bringing that one,” with a jerk of the head at Rúmil who had settled to leaning against Thranduil’s knee, surveying him in silent interest. “But the time of year spoke for itself, and my Lady was certain we would be safe enough.”
The older boy, Orophin, was at the awkward stage where he was no longer a child, though not yet full grown. Thranduil, after a few careful questions, learned he liked carving models of animals, was not overly fond of reading and wanted to be a Galadhrim like his brother and his father before him, to which end he practiced ‘a lot’ with the bow.
Rumil wanted to be a cook and make cakes. Haldir, Thranduil noticed with a feeling of warm amusement, sipped his eggnog and pretended not to hear this. He wondered how long these three had been parentless, how long the blonde elf with the dry, sardonic wit had been mother and father to his siblings.
The bench was far from large, and more and more often the arms of the two adult elves touched, each time creating a small shock of pleasure for Thranduil. He believed for some time that he was alone in this response, and was trying firmly to deny the obvious attraction he was feeling for the light haired elf beside him. However, a shared glance in response to something Rúmil had said, which began in innocent amusement, held an intensity on both sides that left Thranduil looking down into his goblet and cursing himself for colouring like a maiden. He dared not check his companion’s response.
The morning passed only too swiftly, filled with the chattering of the children and the interwoven conversation of the two adults which soon carried a thread of – flirtatiousness – which somehow managed to be both exciting and comfortable at the same time. Thranduil learned that Haldir was one of a small number of warriors from whom Celeborn habitually drew his escort when he travelled outside the borders of his land, which meant Haldir was fairly well acquainted with life outside the Wood. He had been to Imladris on several occasions, he said, his tone hinting to the ongoing rivalry between the warriors of the two realms.
Thranduil merely said that he was a member of the Mirkwood party and moved the conversation along other avenues, giving Haldir no opportunity to ask further questions.
The bell that chimed to proclaim the pre-luncheon hour brought this interlude to an end. Haldir, with an exclamation of regret, rose to his feet immediately, lifting a sleepy-looking Rúmil from his perch on Thranduil’s lap.
“I have to leave. I have duties which have been neglected this morning, and my lord will be looking for me by this time.”
Thranduil rose with him. “I’m sorry to keep you from your responsibilities,” he said reaching over to stroke Rúmil’s hair back from his face. “I was thoughtless. Of course, this isn’t a holiday for you, is it?”
Haldir smiled, meeting his eyes. “This morning was,” he said, his voice taking on a lower, slightly husky tone. “I’ve enjoyed this morning very much indeed.”
Thranduil returned his gaze, and nodded slowly. “I was alone and homesick earlier,” he admitted. “I feel quite differently now.”
“I’ll see you later, I hope?” Haldir asked, gesturing to Orophin in an effort to get his attention off the snow games that had moved further away from them while they had been talking. Matters had taken a more formalized air, with sides having been chosen and a battle of sorts apparently in progress. “Oh go and play with them then, if you must,” he added, on seeing the longing in his brother’s eyes. “Just don’t come and cry to me that your boots are wet and you’re cold.”
Orophin shot him a grateful smile, offered a farewell greeting to Thranduil, and raced off to rejoin the fray. Haldir looked down at the sleepy child in his arms. “I’d best get this to our quarters, then go and find my lord. Take care, my friend. I’ll see you later.”
Thranduil nodded, smiling, and stood watching him make his way across the snow covered garden, carrying the little one in his arms. He had no idea how he was going to handle their next meeting, as there was a limit to how long he could avoid giving his name, but despite this he found himself very much looking forward to expanding their acquaintance.
The next few days passed slowly and pleasantly. The time before the festival traditionally was given over to rest and fellowship, serious matters being left to the final couple of days before everyone departed for their homes. This gave a determined guest the opportunity to make sure he was left very much to his own devices.
Mornings were spend out in the garden with Haldir and his brothers, who showed a preference for their brother’s company that spoke well of the warrior’s attempts to raise them unaided. Thranduil allowed Haldir to believe that he, too, was a warrior by profession, though well born, which was close enough to the truth really. He gave his name as Andis, which was the name his father and close relatives had called him in his youth, and tried to convince himself this, too, was not less than honest.
They exchanged experiences, talked about everything and anything, shared laughter and increasingly meaningful looks. The banter took on a more intimate note, with Haldir offering compliments on his companion’s thick, red-gold hair, and Thranduil expressing admiration for Haldir’s eyes, which were a perfect match for the winter sky above them. The touches became less accidental, verging on light caresses but, despite the relaxation of the holiday period, neither was ready to commit himself further with someone who was, in fact, a stranger, interesting and attractive though each found the other.
At midday Haldir would take his leave, and Thranduil went in search of lunch, usually something along the lines of baked fish and an assortment of vegetables, after which he wandered the house, looking at art works and historical mementos, and renewed acquaintance with members of the household and of Celeborn’s party, all of whom he had not seen for years.
Glorfindel, in a well-intentioned attempt at hospitality, offered to organise an archery contest on the second afternoon, but Thranduil begged off on the grounds that he was enjoying the rest. Instead, he found his way to the library and, discovering a book on the history of the horse lords of the grasslands beyond Lórien, settled down in front of the fire and read the afternoon away, setting the pattern for the following days.
Dinner was a formal occasion, and each night he dressed accordingly, favouring shimmering greens and blues and wearing the emerald-studded gold circlet which had belonged to his father and which was rumoured to have been brought from over the Sea, though no proof existed for this.
Celeborn and his party presented themselves for dinner each night, but Haldir was nowhere in sight. Probably seeing to his brothers, Thranduil realised on the first night with a surprisingly large rush of relief. He had told no lies, yet he knew Haldir would see his half truths and evasions as dishonesty. As so often happens, however, the matter had travelled too far down the appointed road. He could think of no satisfactory explanation to offer the elf from Lórien, whose solid presence, light, clear eyes and wry smile he had come to value.
After dinner on the fourth night, they were all ushered through to the Hall of Fire to hear the latest composition by Elrond’s chief musician, a rather loud, talkative elf called Lindir, whose reputation for excellence was belied by both appearance and conduct, as his behaviour normally resembled that of an off duty warrior. As it turned out, his skill equaled report. Once he began to play and sing, he underwent a complete transformation; his entire attitude becoming one of inward concentration, as his voice dipped and soared, carrying the listeners with it.
The audience had fallen more or less silent. Looking around, Thranduil was fascinated to discover that Erestor and Glorfindel were sitting very close together and actually holding hands, for all the world like a young courting couple. He had no idea what made him look towards the entrance, away from this glimpse into a relationship that was a constant source of gossip and speculation, unless it was the sense of eyes upon him.
There in the doorway stood Haldir. He appeared to have been speaking to Erestor’s assistant, Melpomaen, and was looking in Thranduil’s direction. Even at this distance, even with the subdued lighting of the Hall, Thranduil could see the colour rise in the Galadhrim’s face. Then, brushing past Melpomaen, he turned and left.
There was a long, airless moment during which Thranduil was unaware of reaching a decision about the situation, but he must have done, as the next moment he had risen and was making his way as quietly and unobtrusively as he could from the Hall. He stepped out into the cold, still night, lit gloriously by moonlight shining off the snow. In the background he could still hear, clearly, the sound of Lindir’s exquisite voice.
Haldir was not difficult to find. He was on the terrace that overlooked the garden where they had spent the last few mornings. He was leaning against the railing, his face pensive. He did not look around at the sound of Thranduil’s footsteps, nor when the king joined him. They stood in silence, staring out over a garden that in no way resembled the daytime setting with which they were familiar. Finally, knowing the onus to be upon himself, Thranduil cleared his throat and said quietly,
“I know how this looks…”
Haldir ran his fingers over the light wood beneath his hand and, without looking up, murmured, “I must apologise for my forward behaviour, Your Majesty. It was unintentional, I assure you.”
Thranduil made a sound of annoyance and placed an unthinking hand on Haldir’s arm. The warrior almost flinched, and he withdrew it immediately and, picking his words with as much care as his whirling thoughts would allow, said slowly, “I know you might see this as less than honest, Haldir, and I knew I should say something, but it was difficult. At the start I was enjoying your company and that of your brothers, and I knew it would create a distance between us and make it impossible for us to talk as we had. I’ve experienced that before, believe me. This is not a new problem. Then…”
He paused, then mentally shrugged and got on with it. “Then it was too late, the time had passed, and I had no idea what to say or how to say it. So I remained Andis, which is the name my family calls me, and avoided mention of rank and responsibilities.”
It took more courage than he would have believed to reach out his hand and touch Haldir’s cheek. “Every word and thought I expressed was true. There was just one thing I neglected to mention, because it would have meant an end to our meetings and to the ease between us. I found I had come to value that above simple details. I’m sorry.”
Haldir made no attempt to move away from the hand that touched his face, and slowly looked up into eyes as green as the emeralds in the golden circlet. “I managed to get away earlier tonight, and I thought I would come and find you. Melpomaen saw me looking about and asked who I sought. When I pointed you out, he told me who you were… I feel very foolish, I should have realised…”
“There was no way you could have known,” Thranduil interrupted him, stepping closer, his hand moving almost of its own volition to caress the cheek it cupped before sliding slowly into hair which was as soft as it looked, a pale, silken fall that seemed almost to pick up and reflect back the moonlight. “My main concern was not to lose your company. You have made me feel alive in a way I have not in many years now, not since – not since I was left alone.”
Haldir tentatively moved a step forward and placed capable hands on Thranduil’s waist, holding his gaze as he did so. They stood very still; nothing could be heard now save the sound of the river and of the waterfalls off in the distance. The kiss that followed was almost chaste, a lingering brushing of lips, Thranduil’s cool, Haldir’s still warm. Thranduil put his free hand on Haldir’s broad shoulder and so they stood, bodies barely touching.
They drew back slightly and looked at one another. Thranduil could no longer hear the waterfall and the music had long since died. All he knew was the pounding of blood in his ears, the sound of Haldir’s breathing, and the rising wave of heat that seemed to be spreading from all directions at once and centering itself in his groin, where the warmth was accompanied by a swiftly burgeoning hardness. For a moment they stared at one another expressionlessly, then Haldir’s grip on his waist tightened and he was jerked up against the archer’s hard body, and Haldir’s lips found his in a bruising, hungry kiss that gave him no option other than to part his lips and blend into the embrace.
The tongue that invaded his mouth was like honeyed velvet, and it was practiced and clever and very exciting. With it Haldir explored his mouth, brushing the softness of flesh, the hard but sensitive palate, his tongue twining with Thranduil’s, demanding, insisting on dominance, and the king sank into the kiss, his lips parted, willing to follow where he was led. They grasped and clutched at one another, hands questing under clothing for bare skin, touching, squeezing, leaving finger marks that lingered for days.
They drew back from the kiss when neither of them had breath left to spare, and looked at one another with eyes darkened by desire. There was no hesitation.
“My rooms,” Thranduil said briefly.
Haldir’s brothers shared the small room the three had been given, so going there was out of the question, and the thought of being unable to feel Haldir’s body naked against his own was unendurable.
Like most people, Haldir had always wondered how the great and the influential lived, but he displayed very little curiosity upon finding himself in a king’s chambers. When the door closed he glanced around for the bed, to discover that when Thranduil had said ‘rooms’ he had spoken truly; they were in a small, pleasantly furnished reception room.
Instead of seeking the bedchamber, he simply gave up the days’ long struggle to keep his hands off the Mirkwood beauty with the rose gold hair, pushed him up against the nearest wall and kissed him. There was no objection; the enticing lips parted immediately when he snaked his tongue across them, and his kiss was returned hungrily with tongue and teeth and low, needful moans.
Thranduil gave himself over to the Lórien elf, who was almost overwhelming in his passion, whose mouth was sweet and hot, oh so hot, and whose hands were busy everywhere, touching, caressing, loosening clasps, removing and casting aside his ornate formal robes. From the moment of their first kiss, he had discovered an irresistible need, almost a compulsion, to submit to this elf and, in submitting, receive what he knew instinctively was going to be the most intense, soul-melting experience of his life.
He had never met anyone before who had this effect on him, he had never thought of himself in any way other than as the dominant partner in loveplay, and yet he sank to the floor, pulling Haldir with him, and gave himself over to those experienced hands and to the skilled mouth that soon left his to wander down his body, making acquaintance with his throat, his nipples, his stomach. Finally, making him cry out in his urgency, it fastened on his achingly hard erection, after which he stopped thinking at all, as Haldir led him slowly and inexorably on to ecstasy.
After they had reached completion, when passion was temporarily spent, when their breathing had returned to normal, they helped one another up off the floor, removed their few remaining items of clothing, and found their way to the bedroom. There they made love on the bed, slowly and tenderly now that the first desperate need had been eased.
This time there were whispers of tenderness and praise, and while the first time had been like a forest fire, a natural force, swift and fierce beyond control, this time was sweet and personal and filled with tender pauses. Affection and liking mingled with the passion, and at the end they slipped into reverie still half joined, finding a rightness in one another’s arms which neither of them had looked for in what had appeared to be no more than a holiday dalliance.
Morning came, as it will, and with morning came practical concerns. Waking to birdsong and the sound of falling water, Thranduil focused on the face looking down at him from within a fall of straight, pale hair. There was no moment of blank uncertainty, the evening stood clear in his mind, and unhesitatingly he smiled. Haldir reached down to gently run a finger along the side of his face, then over to trace the line of his lips. “Good morning,” he said softly, and bent so that they could share a slow, still-sleepy kiss.
Some time later, Thranduil said softly to Haldir, who was lying with his head on the king’s shoulder, running fingers up and down the mid line of his chest, “Your brothers will be worried. How late is it?”
“Not that late,” Haldir replied lazily. “Anyway, long before you woke, I dressed and went and asked a comrade I trust to keep an eye to them. They’ll be spoilt rotten.”
Thranduil nodded, and they lay in companionable silence for a time. Haldir’s fingers stopped moving, his hand rested in the centre of Thranduil’s chest. “I can feel your heart beat,” he murmured, turning his head to press a kiss to the smooth skin. “Strong and steady. Like you.”
Thranduil drew him closer and stroked his hair. “I think you strengthen me,” he murmured. “When we met I was tired and alone and unsure of my path. I have certainty this morning, a peace within myself.”
Haldir was quiet for a while, his fingers moving once again, gliding over to circle a dusky nipple which slowly puckered and then peaked. “We have very little time, you know,” he murmured, starting to rub the nipple with his thumb, smiling to himself to feel Thranduil squirm slightly. An insistent hand caught his hair and drew his head over and down, and for a few minutes he was very busy suckling and gently tugging.
Thranduil, whose hand had moved to grasp his shoulder, replied in a slightly breathless voice, “We have little time here, yes I know. And we live far apart and that will make things …complicated. But if we are determined…”
Haldir stopped what he was doing and lifted his head until their eyes met. “Midwinter Moon, every fifth year. Plus escort duty to messengers and the like in between. My fellow warriors might think I have taken leave of my senses to volunteer for such things, but …I am a very determined person when I am motivated, Your Majesty. And in this I am very motivated indeed.
AN: thanks to Fim and Denise.