Steel

By Dien Alcyone

Rating: R for male/male sexual tension, implied naughtiness.

Disclaimer: A genius-muse incarnate, by the name of JRR Tolkien, first created the characters. I merely stumbled across the doorway he painted for us, walked in, and have been enchanted ever since. (In other words, I don't own 'em-- for which be glad-- and I make no gold.)

Summary: Elrond Peredhil, Lord of Imladris, has a problem with humans. Boromir, son of Denethor, has a problem with Elves. When two such warriors meet in combat, even if it's only for practice, sparks may fly.

One could also look on this as The-Smacking-Down-of-Boromir. Not that I actually dislike the poor fellow, but let us say I am jealous on Elrond's behalf. You see, Boromir and Legsandass-- I MEAN, Legolas-- get so much attention that I felt Elrond, my personal favorite, should get his turn in the spotlight so to speak, and Boromir should get his incredible arrogance handed to him on a platter, then be force-fed it. Boo-yah, mortal man, eat that--

...Ahem.

Also some implied Elrond/Isildur.... I meant for this to be lighter, sweeter, and shorter than it turned out to be. Sorry. The Angst/Darkness Momentum carried me... and then it went and got steamy on me too, in more than one sense. Said steamy sequel is called Water.

What else...? Oh yes, I freely acknowledge the inspiration of Vagabond's (excellent) 'Just the Second.'

Thanks and I hope you enjoy!

(Isn't my sword-divider thing pretty?)

         

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The training grounds are always deserted in the morning.

I do not know why it should be so; I have always found dawn to be the best time to practice the arts of war. The cool of the morning, the tentative half-light, the hush that seems to settle over the world in these hours... it is conducive to the exacting discipline of the blade and the body, to the focused and precise dance of battle. But be that as it may, the training grounds have always been empty in the hours shortly before and after dawn-- except for myself, of course.

I practice alone. Always.

This is not so much from a desire to do so as it is... just the way it is. None of my kin or guests ever... would ever... It does not trouble me, that I practice alone. I have been doing so for many years now, after all.

Perhaps few even know I train at all. I am Elrond Half-elven, Master of Imladris, a healer perhaps unmatched among all that yet remain in Middle-Earth, a loremaster of the same high standard. For those who see me as a scholar of books, the fact that I retain the knowledge of the body might be incongruous; to others who look on me as a physician, the fact that I know how to harm as well as help would be strange.

But one can have no knowledge of life without the knowledge of death. And I was a warrior long before I became better known for quieter pursuits.

So I practice. Every morning, unless some urgent business stays my hand. As the grey half-light of the predawn enters my windows, I take my sword from the chest and make my way to the practice grounds, to the one area of Rivendell set aside for learning how to injure and hurt.

It is a plain enough area. A fairly large square, spacious enough that at need one could practice the horse as well as the blade, or even short-range archery. The plaza is empty but for a few removable targets of straw and wood, and a lone tree that stands in the center of the bare dirt. This open space is ringed by a few small buildings, in which there is space to sit and rest, or take a drink from the cool well, or clean one's equipment. The young of my house-- and indeed they are all young, to my eyes-- come here in the afternoon and evening, and hold games of skill with each other. They are full of high spirits, and the square is noisy then-- though I know Men or Dwarves would not deem it so. But we Elves are a quiet people.

This quiet has rarely been more welcome to me as I enter the practice field today, my sheathed blade in one hand. I feel the need of the cleansing discipline and exertion. The tidings of late have been-- ill.

For a second I smile grimly. When have I, Elrond, not found news ill? But this time, it truly is so. Matters of great import are stirring. The Council was three days ago, and the news that has been revealed is... dark.

Nazgul. They are abroad once more, if temporarily upset. And the Ring, the Ring that this halfling has brought here, to my valley... It is the One Ring. Sauron's power grows. He seeks it. Orcs spill from the mountains in numbers beyond counting. Men also serve the Dark Lord. War looms on the horizon, a dark and ominous cloud that obscures my vision. All I can see clearly is that we are dying. Fading, vanishing; our time like the nephredil that withers in the summer heat, to be supplanted by flowers heartier but of less beauty.

We wish-- we seek-- to destroy the Ring... a quest that I have heard even the members of my own household speak of as hopeless and futile. And the Company that I shall send with the ring? Perhaps an army of Elf-Lords? Perhaps the Valar will aid us? Perhaps it shall be as glorious a host as walked with Gil-Galad of old? Ha!

No. I send Olorín and Aragorn to watch over a fellowship mixed indeed-- another of the sons of Man, whose pride is greater than his wisdom... Legolas, of my silvan kindred, and barely out of childhood himself... Gimli the dwarf... and four halflings. Four. They seem as guileless children to me, and sending them into death, horror and madness a crime beyond any other I have committed in my long life.

For good or evil, Middle-Earth is about to change once more. And I greatly fear it shall be for evil.

I find that the thought of true attack, and of more than just the wooden targets of the practice field, is appealing to me. For I am... angry. Worried. Distressed.

Scared.

I do not enjoy being these things. I never have. Emotions such as these are for the mortals to bear.

I step out onto the fine grey dust of the field, feeling it smooth and firm and just a bit slippery under my thin-soled boots, and I inhale deeply of the morning air, trying to find some calmness here in the old ritual. The air I breathe in is cool, almost chill; it seems to ease the fire in my breast. For a moment I bow my head, hearing the blood in my veins slow and subside, then I discipline myself and drive all dark thoughts from my mind. I cannot practice with such... distractions.

I am cleansed. I am empty of all but the knowledge of myself, my body, here and now. I feel the clear air enter my bloodstream, I feel my skin and muscles under my command, I am aware of my own energy, cool and calm and unbroken flow. I am ready to practice.

I walk to the tree and slip off my loose robe, worn against the cool of the morning. Soon I will be more than warm enough. My shirt joins it, on a branch of the tree. I stand in only my trousers and boots, look out over the smooth earth of the field (marred, at this hour, only by my own faint footprints leading to the tree), and draw my blade.

Fëohtar, my sword, is a familiar weight in my hand-- as well he should be. We have been together for a very long time. I concentrate on the grip in my hand, the well-worn leather, the perfect weight and balance of the pommel and hilt to the expanse of clean and deadly steel...

"Good morning, old friend," I whisper, and set the scabbard gently against the bole of the tree. I take seven exact steps forward, hold Fëohtar forward in the correct position... and begin the dance.

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I wake as I always have; before the Sun makes her way into the sky. The crow of the cock is one of my earliest memories of boyhood in Minas Tirith, and for one second as I automatically sit up and grope for my sword and belt, I think I am there, and have to take a moment to process the silken sheets and unfamiliar colors and shapes of the room around me.

It is beautiful, and alien, and foreign. Strange scents and textures pull at my skin, and it is not until my fingers have actually closed on my sword's hilt that I relax enough to remember I am in Imladris, the half-mythical dwelling of the Elves that I have sought for so long now. I arrived but four days ago, seeking answers. They held a Council that has left me with more questions than it has raised, and has left me choosing to join a ragtag group of journeyers on some insane quest to deliver the Ring straight to the doors of Him that we do not name. Only the fact that the other Man in the group, Aragorn son of Arathorn, seems to me to be a man of reason and action, has kept me from protesting more than I otherwise would, and has bid me still my tongue in the 'diplomacy' that Denethor, my father, is fond of. Perhaps on the long road south and east reason can be shown to the other members of the party as well.

Now we wait. How long, how much more time before our band sets out on this dark road? They say they are waiting for news of the Nine Riders, who have supposedly been destroyed or waylaid. I feel impatience prick at my limbs, and I swelter here in this city.

A city of elves and music and stone and starlight. I suppose it is... beautiful. Myths and legends tell of the beauty of the Elves. But it is a cold and strange beauty, and I take no comfort in it, nor in the beauty of the cold faces that I see. Give me Men, honest Men, who live and die normally, who eat and drink and sleep and, aye, scratch their arses once in a while.

But the alien stares of an alien people, of a fading people who are more than halfway legends, who look on me and whose gazes make me feel clumsy and loud and boorish-- Faramir would have been better here. Yes, this place would suit him.

Yet I have not come here to be comfortable, but to receive answers and hope. Very well. I would gladly take both and be off, as swift as I can. Away from these Elves, with faces like marble gods, and hearts as cold and empty. Let them have their poetry and dreams and safe haven.... let us mortals do the dying.

The Master of this place, Elrond Half-Elven (and I do not know why they call him this as he seems all-elven to me. Perhaps his coloring is darker, but his blood is the coldest of any I have yet seen here. Some of the younger ones-- that is I think they are younger, one cannot tell with Elves-- I see in their eyes the spark of passion and courage yet, and could count them as allies, perhaps; but this... Elrond... never have I seen one, Man, Elf or Dwarf, who more encompassed some distant and uncaring power. Supposedly, he is very old, and perhaps he sees us mortals as but brief flickers in the night... but all I see, when I look at him, is someone content behind years, and books, and a cowardice that he can pass off as 'wisdom.' Hah!)

.... but this Elrond spoke at the Council and was one of those who urged most for the destruction of the Ring. Elrond, whose advice I traveled for all these leagues! Fool. Passionless, heartless, arrogant Elf. I swear, if he saw the orcs of Mordor attacking his own children, he would first convene a council to decide whether they were to be rescued.

I sigh and drop back to the bed, which is too soft, too perfumed. I stare at the ceiling of my chamber (prison, some claustrophobic part of me thinks frantically, and I squash it down) and grimace. What I need... is some... exercise. I cannot do this routine of sitting and dreaming and musing and reading, I need steel in my hand and enemies to fight, even if they are only of my imagination.

Does this place even have an area where I can practice? Or is it all libraries? I grimace again, pull on my shirt, boots, and breeches, and decide to go find out.

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Five minutes later, I am on my way through a maze of corridors and beautiful, unfamiliar halls. A clean-faced, polite young elf-boy I snagged outside my room had looked puzzled at my initial query, which had disappointed me, but then he gave me the instructions which I now follow. Right at the statue-- left at the great window--

I open a door that moves lightly under my touch, step out into the cool morning air-- and freeze.

There is indeed a practice ground before me; a good-sized square, with equipment stables and so on around its edges, target dummies for both lance and foot fighting arranged... It is a better training area than I would have given these Elves credit for, but that is not what stops me in my tracks. It is rather that the square is occupied.

I do not recognize the man there, at first. Some minor squire or youth of the place, still too young to have become as cold as the rest of his kin? He is a tall, slim figure, skin pale over defined muscles, and I feel heat in my belly and groin. I am too busy staring to try and push it away.

He is... furious... He is practicing with the sword, slicing and slashing and even hacking at the targets in front of him. While it is not without skill-- no, under that rage I can see some of the movements of the true swordsman-- it is... violent. Angry. Vicious. More like chopping wood than wielding a blade. I have seen this sort of attack only in my comrades, when they have lost a dear brother-in-arms and the bloodlust comes upon them.

The figure in the square, who despite the chill of the morning wears only dark, snug trousers and light boots, attacks, attacks, attacks. His long dark hair was pulled back in a tie at the beginning of his practice, I think, but under the force of his exertions it has mostly slipped free, and flies about his face like a shadow. I see sweat rolling off his pale skin, and even at this distance can see his heaving chest as he gasps for air.

He is silent except for those gasps, though the dull sound of his blade hitting wood echoes through the courtyard. Even as I watch, transfixed, he seems to slip even more into fury, and with a mighty hew he takes the head clean off of one of the dummies. But his anger is not assuaged, and he flings the sword from him-- I wince as the good blade skitters through the dirt-- and lunges ferally for the target with his bare hands. It falls to the ground, and only then does the man seem to come back to himself. He places his hands on his knees for support, hunched over, and pants and gasps, his back to me.

I can see the definition of muscle there, on the smooth planes of his back, and also scars. Long thin white lines that curve and cross their way over the white skin, over the line of his spine, which leads down to the dark fabric of his trousers, the outline of his firm buttocks... my mouth goes dry. Then he straightens up and throws his head back, raking his long hair from his face and eyes, and turns slightly, looking for his sword. I gasp a bit.

It is Elrond Half-Elven. Of all... of all the elves and men in this place... I can think of none who less fit the image of the warrior I just saw. I suppose his hair, dark as the hair of few elves are, should have clued me in, but perhaps I thought it was one of his sons, who are rumored to be warriors. I don't know. It doesn't matter.

Elrond does not see me, making his way over to where his sword lies in the dirt. He picks it up and shakes off the dust. Sound carries in this courtyard, in the quiet of the morning, and I hear him whisper, "Forgive me, Fëohtar. That was unworthy of you."

The elf walks to the tree in the center of the square and takes his shirt from one of the branches. He wipes the sword carefully with it, cleaning every speck of grime and dust from the blade. Then, for a moment, he slumps against the tree, one arm thrown up over his face, the other loosely gripping the sword.

His breathing begins to slow and I am sure the sweat on his skin dries. His face, what I can see of it, is flushed and tired. I watch him without moving from my position by the wall, aware of the desire coursing through my veins and the storm of thoughts in my mind.

It is ironic, I suppose. That I should have these... feelings... these unwanted feelings... that are worthy of no true man... and someone like, say, my brother, has no trouble appreciating women. He is the one who is less the warrior, less the... man, in truth, yet... yet Faramir has never had to feign admiration for a woman's body or bosom. My father continues to ask if I have yet seen a maiden among our people that catches my eye, and I continue to evade... I tell him my only love is for battle, which is not strictly true. But it is true enough, and I swear that my father shall never have to look upon me with anything else than pride. What would Denethor, Steward of Gondor, think if he knew his beloved son had these... lusts for other men, hmm? That Boromir the Manly goes off to the dark parts of Minas Tirith, to shabby taverns and dingy, small backrooms, with a false beard on his face, looking for what pleasure can be found among the sordid dens...?

I have heard that the Elves do not find it as distasteful as we Men do. In the past, that bit of knowledge meant less than nothing to me-- what had I to do with Elves? Now, suddenly, as I stand here in the cool light of dawn with a fire in my loins and thoughts whirring in my head, the idea is somewhat more... interesting...

I am pulled from my own musings by Elrond's movements. He pushes himself away from the tree, turns, and begins to practice. Not the violence I saw earlier, but disciplined motion and skill. He runs through the positions-- guard to lunge to fléche to balestra to cut-over to the parry to the riposte, the one-two, the coulé-- he begins to count, in their Elvish tongue that I do not know, but it is still plain that he is counting out the numbers as he goes through the circle of the blade. His voice is rhythmic and clear in the morning air.

He is quick. Though he starts the cycle slowly, he picks up speed, til his boots are almost dancing over the earth. He does not slip or lose his footing in the fine dust, as his feet sink into it. The long bright length of his blade flickers like lightning-- stab, parry, thrust-- and I watch entranced. In awe.

As great as his earlier fury and passion is his current composure, skill, and technique. He is... his form is... perfect. Now, I am no mean swordsman. I am the greatest with the blade of all who walk in Minas Tirith. Even as a child my tutors were the best and most highly skilled warriors of our city, and they taught me surpassingly well. Yet, I look on him as he moves with his sword, as he attacks and disengages and attacks, and I can not see one flaw in his movements.

How long does one have to practice to achieve such skill? I wonder. To achieve such effortless... beauty?

I do not know how long I stand and watch Master Elrond duel with shadows, my own sword forgotten in my hand. It might be but five minutes; it might be five hours. I am roused only as I realize he is stopping. He has brought the blade back in to his side and slowly bows over it, in the ancient formal salute. Then he straightens with a sigh and lifts his head to look at the blue sky arching above.

He stands there for a moment, his loose dark hair falling down his sweaty back. He is... perfect. (By which I do mean his body this time, and not his form.) I have seen men with broader shoulders by far, and larger arms, but none, I think, so beautiful. He is slim, almost slender, but his muscles are well defined-- as I imagine they would be, if he practices like this every morning. So much for Elrond the Scholar and Loremaster.

He has some scars, and these are also beautiful to me. I have looked on these elves and seen no mark of the years on them, let alone marks of battle... until now. His arms are strong and quick, as I saw from his practice, and pale. I see his hands, where the long fingers of his right are curled around the grip of the sword, slender fingers and strong, and I feel a flush as I imagine those fingers on my own skin.

Gods and ancestors, what's happening to me? I shake my head, but my gaze never leaves Elrond. He sighs and lowers his head, walking to the tree. I understand he is going to return his sword to his sheath, and leave the field, and I-- I cannot have that. I quickly step out from the doorway I have been standing in all this time, and call out with a forced cheerfulness, "Ho, Master Elrond! I see I am not the only one up early this day."

He whirls before I have finished his name, the blade pointing in my direction. For a second, his face is-- alive, alert and tense, the dark eyes crackling, then he recognizes me and lowers his blade, the cool mask of elven-kind also lowering over his face.

"Lord Boromir. Good morning," he says, and his voice is as I remember-- impersonal and cool as water.

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I stare at the blue sky overhead, clear and clean despite the darkness that I know lies to the South and East, and I breathe in deep draughts of the fresh air. My practice session has gone... satisfactorily, I suppose. After that first twenty minutes, in which I admit I lost my temper-- after that, I did better.

Thank the Vala that I do practice alone; those moments when... nerves... overcame me were something I would wish none of my household to see. I am Elrond, Master of Rivendell; I cannot afford such... weakness.

It is enough for today. I will put the sword away, wash the dust from me, and go and get dressed to meet the day. I turn towards the tree--

A voice interrupts me, rough and hearty; a Man. "Ho, Master Elrond! I see I am not the only one up early this day."

I turn quickly, still more than half-way in the mind of battle, and am prepared to do combat with.... with....

A pair of proud grey eyes meet my own, framed by dark lashes, and for a moment time twists in on itself and fades. I know these eyes--

But he is dead, dead and gone. No more than he earned, with his monumental foolishness... and the human who stands before me is not Isildur, Fool Among Kings, but only one who seems to remind me of him.

I lower my sword and compose myself. "Lord Boromir. Good morning." He bows slightly, and I automatically return it, not really looking at him. I have other things on my mind; the day's business stretches ahead, but... I must play the gracious host.

"Are your rooms less than satisfactory, Lord Boromir?" I ask, wiping my blade once more with the now-grimy cloth of my shirt. It is a wasted gesture-- Fëohtar is clean already-- but my hands want for something to do.

He is startled by my query. "What? No, the rooms are-- fine. Why wouldn't they be?"

I shrug slightly. "Normally, guests of Rivendell sleep late. If they do not, my first instinct is that something is amiss."

It might be my imagination, but I think Boromir Steward's Son flushes a bit. "It is not my habit to dally in bed. I came in search of a practice ground, though I had feared I would be alone in... that is--"

I smile thinly. His thoughts would be readable even were I not an elflord and ringbearer. "Now, now, my lord, while it is true that our strength 'is in words not in weapons' do not think we Elves know nothing of combat. I wager there are some here in Imladris who could cross swords with even you, master warrior, and live to tell the tale." I am mostly successful at keeping the mockery from my tone, but I don't know why I bother. This one is no Aragorn, trained in our words and ways-- he is dense and thick-skulled in the way of Men, and I could dance verbal circles around him if it amused me to do so--

Or perhaps not. I see his eyes narrow with a perception I did not see there before, and mentally chastise myself. Nearly seven thousand years... you'd think I'd have learned better, by now...

"Indeed, Master Elrond. I don't suppose you yourself would care for a quick spar?" He smiles winningly at me, exactly like Isildur did, once upon a time, and then he says, "Unless I am being too forward?"

I pause. It has been... some time... since I trained with another. And with this Man? This man who is so much the... epitome, the actualization of all I see in mankind... Their pride, their 'strength,' their courage bordering on foolhardiness, their lust for power, their weakness...

I think of Isildur and his fateful decision, all those years ago. And how if he had chosen differently, if he had been stronger and wiser and resisted the temptation-- we would not be in this situation today. The Ring would not be here, in my home. I would not fear for the lives of all under my care, my family, my kin, and my species. The world would be different, better-- if not for the folly of Men.

My smile is cold. "I would be... delighted to practice with you, Lord Boromir," I say softly, looking him over.

Muscle in his arms and shoulders-- he is likely far stronger than me. Fine. I am quicker. And experience is on my side.

For a moment, though, I am distracted from thoughts of swordcraft as I look at him. Technically speaking, dawn has come and gone, and the Sun sends her bright rays through the sky to touch the form of this Man of Gondor, for a second gilding him like a statue of old. His brown hair is turned to dark bronze, his grey eyes turned to keen and piercing silver... the casual raiment he wears-- a loose and billowing shirt over leather breeches and boots-- is in this moment a garb of kings.

More like Isildur than ever. The expression is identical, even; well-recalled from my first meeting with the man. Eager, proud, hungry, the eyes sparking with-- ah. Ah.

I've no doubt he desires the clash of steel, this man from the south. But I'd wager he also desires something else, and as I feel his eyes linger on my bare skin, there are no doubts as to what it is.

I hide my smile. A distant part of me urges caution-- urges against using this man as a substitute for one who is long dead-- but I am in no mood to be wise this morning.

Let us duel then, you and I... Let us stand before the Sun and let us see which of us stands the stronger... and the weaker.

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I hadn't expected him to accept. I blurted out my challenge in a barely civil tone, and expected a cool refusal, something off-hand and arrogant and polite-- no Elf is ever rude-- and then I expected him to walk away, and for me to stare after him.

But not this. Elrond Half-Elven smiles at me, and it is chill and polished as his steel. He sets his scabbard back down against the tree and steps back out into the open area, graciously waiting for me to join him.

I blink for a moment, and quickly follow his lead, dropping my sword's scabbard to the ground and stepping out to meet him.

We raise our swords-- and begin.

Ten seconds in, I know I am outclassed. Hells, if I am truthful I admit I knew it from the start, from just watching him practice. But part of me did not want to believe it, and so I challenged him, and here we fight, blades dancing back and forth.

It is only by my superior strength that I manage to keep things even partly equal between us, by using sheer force to batter down his blade and try to drive the attack home. He deflects most of my thrusts easily, his face impassive.

Lunge. Parry. Guard. Counter-attack. Defend. Parry again. My sword feels awkward and heavy in my hands, where it has never felt anything but at home before. But the elf's blade is like lightning, or mercury, and I am hard-pressed.

I know... I know better, than to let anger overcome me in a sword fight. I do indeed know better-- I have been taught better. But as the fight continues, I slowly... I'm not sure where it starts-- the first small nick along my cheek, light and stinging, or the moment when the tip of his blade rips a small hole in the fabric of my shirt--

No, I take that back. I know exactly when it starts... it starts in the moment I realize he is amused.

His face remains calm and composed. But in his dark, night-like eyes, I see a glitter of wicked humor. Elrond of Imladris is laughing at me, as he cuts my skin and clothes, and makes light of my defences.

From then on, I only grow angrier. I want to-- hurt him. Slash a crimson line across that sculpted chest, bring my fist into his perfect face and relish his shock and realization in the moment before it lands. I want to show him up. I want to wipe that polite little smirk off his face.

I want that Elven control to slip, that cool, haughty mask to shatter under my hands, to make him scream and moan-- and I don't give a damn if it's in pleasure or pain, I really don't.

I want to make him angry.

I double my attack, trying with sheer effort and muscle for what skill and technique will not get me-- him at my feet. I batter at his blade, I hack, I feel sweat creep into my eyes and through its sting I see him smiling.

Elrond Peredhil. Before we are done here, I will make you beg. I swear it.

Attack. Attack. Parry. Lunge.

And I'm not sure how he does it-- I think I overswing, and cannot bring my blade back in time to intercept his own-- but one second I am thrusting with my sword, and the next I am standing very still, so as not to skewer my own neck on the tip of his blade. It is held steadily, the point digging into the soft flesh right at the hollow of my throat, and I am afraid to breathe, much less swallow.

Our eyes meet, over the length of steel he holds between us. We stare at each other, me in surprise and anger and... I am not afraid of you. Do you understand me, Elf? I am not... I'm not... afraid. I'm not.

Your eyes are the color of twilight, and glint with stars of silent laughter. How dare you laugh at me.

Your face is impassive, calm, the same it has been every day I've seen you-- except for that amusement in your eyes and now, the little smile that twists the corner of your mouth.

"Round one to me, I believe," you say off-handedly. "Shall we go for two out of three, Steward's Son?"

And you step back, withdrawing the blade, and politely wait for my answer, though surely you can read it in the grimness of my face, the anger in my eyes. I nod, shift my grip on my hilt, inhale, my eyes fixed on you and your cool and hated dignity-- and I attack once more.

But perhaps it was good for me, that moment in which I stood there at your mercy. It forced me to take a step back from the situation and cool my anger for a moment. I am still angry-- still furious-- but I will not let it control me. I have to be cunning to defeat you, Elf-Lord, and cunning I shall be.

The sun has risen higher in the sky, though it is yet cool. Not that either of us feels it-- we are both sweating with the force of our exertions... My shirt is drenched in some places, while your bare torso gleams with the sheen of it. I imagine my tongue, licking your skin clean, and nearly get impaled by your next attack. I grunt with the effort of bringing my blade up in time, and return my mind to the battlefield.

How will I get you? How shall I defeat you? You are arrogant, Master Elrond, arrogant beyond words, and this shall be your downfall. Also, you underestimate me. How can I use this?

In swordcraft, you must watch your feet, and take care that you do not place your feet in such a manner that the enemy can cause you to lose your balance. You must not overstep, you must not put too great a distance between your legs, you must not put your feet in the same line because then you have no support...

An idea grows in my head as our blades weave back and forth, the clash and ring of steel filling the courtyard with sound. You underestimate me. You would not consider that I would do this on purpose, knowing it is incorrect.

I start to maneuver closer, and let my stroke get wilder. To cause you to think I am getting angry again, when I am in perfect control of myself, this time. Then, I lunge.

I overstep, nearly off-balance already-- you dodge my blade easily, as I knew you would-- and with a small smile on your face you trip me, hooking one foot under my support leg and yanking.

Perfect.

You have taken the bait, and as I start to fall, I grab your shoulder-- actually your neck, mostly-- holding onto the sweat-slick skin-- and bring you down with me.

We land on the hard earth in a tangle, but I was expecting it and you were not, if the shock in your dark grey eyes is any indication. I hear the air leave your body in a rush and cannot hide my feral grin.

It is surprisingly easy to hold you down, to capture your left hand up by your head and hold it to the ground. I must have near a hundred pounds on you, elflord, slim as you are, and I pin your chest with my own. You Elves must not practice wrestling half as much as you do swordcraft.

My other hand reaches for my sword, dropped in the fall, but your right hand is lifting also and I shift so your sword hand is trapped under my body. Then-- my hand closes on my hilt-- I bring the edge of the blade to your throat-- and, our faces inches from each other, I whisper, "Round two to me, Master Elrond."

The expression on your face is one I shall treasure for the rest of my mortal days.

You are furious, humiliated, stunned-- gods, but this is sweet. Sweet to be in command, sweet to see your mortification, o proud elflord... sweet to feel your chest heaving under my own, to smell the scent of your skin-- salt-sweat right now, and under that your scent, like sea-water and pine trees-- sweet to see a strand of your hair tossed over your face and shifting with your ragged breathing...

You compose yourself, the fire in your eyes turning into ice, and say in that damned voice, that never loses its calmness, that you use in a palace or a council or the training ground, "Indeed."

I stare at you in slight disbelief or anger, I'm not sure which... I got what I wanted, partly; the expression, the anger... but like a little boy who gets what he wants on his birthday, then wants something new, I now want to hear your voice broken and ragged and raw with emotion.

I get off you, standing up, aware of the ache in my groin that tells me back on the ground was a much better position, and with the same false politeness we're using with each other, offer my hand to you to help you up. You disdain it and get to your feet on your own.

We're both dirty now as well as sweaty; that little roll on the ground didn't improve our appearances any. I grin-- I don't mind having a bit of dust on me, and I'm sure it pisses you off to no end, O fastidious elf.

For a moment we each stand there breathing, glaring at each other mutely, then we each raise our swords again, half in salute, half in preparation for the third round.

Dead silent in the courtyard. The sun is beginning to warm the air. I smile grimly, wipe dirt and sweat and a little blood from my face with my sleeve. Then attack once more.

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I am still struggling to get my breath back as Boromir grins ferally then leaps forward once more with his sword. Damn him for a cunning human. Clever little mortal, aren't you?

The length of steel flickers towards me, and only my ingrained reflexes save me from getting a blooding, as Fëohtar flickers up in answer and the ring of steel fills my ears once more. This Boromir is more crafty than I gave him credit for, and a hot flush of embarrassment and anger burns through me.

Not the only flush, either. I can still feel... his skin moving against my own, his hot breath on my face, the weight of his chest against my own, pinning me to the ground... making me helpless.

I hate being helpless.

Humans have such an... interesting smell to them. Earthy and exciting and primal and heady... I lick my lips unconsciously, remembering how the smell had filled my nostrils as he lay on top of me, remembering the raging desire I had seen in his eyes. I half expected him to try and ravish me then and there, with his lust so plain to see. I admit to being impressed when he managed to get off and stand up...

Elbereth! If I do not watch what I am doing, I shall be helpless again, I realize as his blade seeks my heart and I barely deflect it, the tip of it tracing a burning line across my left shoulder nonetheless. He grins wildly, ferally; I feel my own smile start to grow.

Final round. And you shall not win it, son of Man.

I am Elrond Peredhil, Elrond Half-Elven, Master of Imladris, Ringbearer of Vilya, a Lord among Elves and Men both... and you are but a Man, a mortal. Weak. Foolish. And even if your race is fated to hold this hither shore when all of mine have departed, it is a different matter here and now between the two of us.

Parry. Slash. Attack. Thrust. Guard. Disengage.

Ai, it is so familiar, the dance of battle... and one's foes do not matter so much as the dance itself... I have fought this fight a hundred times, against Boromir, against Isildur.

We weave and circle one another, and now the sun shines from behind him, turning him to a silhouette. Truly, if I let it, it could be a scene from those days long ago, when the Last Alliance marched on Mordor, and during our nightly stops for camps, Isildur and I practiced the blade.

And Isildur and I practiced other things, as well, in the darkness of a lost Age, in the darkness of our tents...

Ai, Isildur, king among men and fool among kings.... would that your face did not haunt me and your wisdom had been greater than your pride and greed.... would that I could let you go... would that this Man in front of me were not so much like you.

Would that you had had the strength to do what needed to be done. Would that you had not betrayed us all. Betrayed me.

The sword glistens and gleams in your hands, and I stand transfixed for a moment, remembering your hands and letting my gaze roam up your well-known arms, until I meet your face.

And you are Boromir, not Isildur.

I move without thought to interfere, bring the tip of my sword to the base of yours and one quick circle, one flick of the wrist later, it flies from your hand to slide through the dirt. You are... disarmed... the shock in your face interesting to observe, from a distance.

I move casually, placing Fëohtar's edge against your throat. Grey eyes flicker to me, wide in anger and lust and maybe fear. It is meaningless to me. Boromir son of Denethor, scion of Gondor... you are meaningless to me. An echo of a man I said goodbye to a long age ago.

"Third round to me, Lord Boromir. I believe that concludes our practice," I say flatly, and turn to go.

Boromir twitches slightly, as if to speak, as if to halt my departure, and the motion checks me. So much the same, he is, and so much different... I waver, as if I stood on the edge of my own blade for a moment, then turn back to the motionless son of Gondor.

"For a human, my lord, your skill with a blade is extraordinary," I smile, stepping closer. We are almost of a height, the stockier, powerful human an inch or two shorter than myself. "It was a most... enjoyable practice. My thanks."

And I kiss him. Quick and bruising and hard, claiming his mouth that tastes of dust and sweat and heat and the flavor of green apples; a harsh biting kiss that is both thanks and punishment. Is it also a farewell...? It is a brief one if it is. I pull back, smile at him, and walk away.

Dawn has come and gone. I wonder what tomorrow morning's practice shall hold.