Warning: Sex and lust. Some roughness. Euphemisms used. No crass language.
Disclaimer: I don't own Haldir, darn it, but Altariel is mine. Haldir, Lothlórien and Middle Earth belong to the Tolkien estate.
A/N: Non-canon/A.U. treatment of elves. Hopefully fun to read anyway. Special thanks and kudos to Fianna for her feedback and assistance and for cracking the whip over me.
The Hunt was tonight.
For so long she had dreamed of this. Only once every few hundred years did it happen, when the stars, moon and sun all slipped into a distinctive alignment that had a singular effect upon the Silvan Elves in Middle Earth.
No one knew why, but it had started long ago and well before the First Age, during a time when the clan of the Teleri fell away from the Great Journey. What caused it was a mystery that no one had ever solved. Some said it was the water, some said it was the Valar. There were a host of whispered theories, but none had ever been verified. In fact, the whole odd thing had in general gone unrecorded in the various elvish histories, perhaps due to embarrassment or perhaps because of natural elvish reticence. The few existing references to it were so oblique that the uninformed would never understand them.
But everyone knew.
Every Silvan elf felt it, even those who were bonded, but the males felt it in particular, and unbonded males most of all.
Also known as the Call.
Altariel shivered with excitement. At last! Her first hunt! She had been of age during the last hunt, but she had chosen not to go. She hadn't felt ready, and had lacked the courage and confidence. She'd regretted it later, profoundly, and had spent many long years since then berating herself for her cowardly decision.
Things were different now—she was stronger, wiser, braver. And all these years of dreaming had solidified her determination to participate in the next hunt.
Dreaming of the hunt as she so often did, Altariel made her way along a narrow path, her mind filled with images of what might happen and with whom. Who would come for her? Various faces flitted through her head, and one in particular filled her with such nervous anticipation that she could barely breathe, barely think beyond the image of his bold, handsome face. But would it be he? Or some other?
"Altariel," one of her friends called softly from nearby.
Startled, Altariel turned, hesitated, and then went to join Celeth, who was seated on a delicately carved bench in a nearby arbor.
"Well? Will you go tonight?" Celeth's blue eyes were wide and inquisitive.
Altariel thought for a moment. It was a highly personal question, one she was not sure she wished to discuss with anyone. Not everyone chose to take part in such things; some considered themselves too civilized, while others took part, but did not speak of it.
"I am not sure," Altariel replied warily. "Will you?"
"Oh no! No, I don't think so." Celeth seemed almost shocked by the question, although she had asked Altariel the same. "I'm not ready for such things. Perhaps someday."
Altariel lifted her brows. "Are you afraid?"
Celeth bit her lip. "It just seems so uncultured and rough. There are other ways."
"I see," Altariel said, "and I understand."
She supposed she did understand, for when the time had come for the last hunt, she had had similar reservations. All that had changed; now she found the idea of the hunt unbearably exciting and enormously inviting. Each night she lay in her bed, stirred by her imaginings and dreaming her dreams, and wondering—always wondering—who it would be, and how it would be, and how she would feel afterward.
Taking leave of Celeth, Altariel turned away, reluctant to explain her thoughts to her friend, or in fact to anyone. She had not spoken of this even to her mother; it was simply not the sort of thing they would speak of, and if it happened, well, she would decide later what to say.
She walked slowly along the path until she came to the steps that would lead to her talan, excitement coursing through the pathways of her body. Her thoughts drifting, she began to ascend the winding stairways, but within moments she felt that she was being watched, and knew an urge to look back over her shoulder.
A group of ellyn gathered below in a clearing visible from where she stood. Tall, silver-haired and strong, they were all wardens . . . and all unbonded, as many wardens were. Did they speak of the hunt? She knew without being told that it was what had drawn them together at this time, in that particular place.
She wanted to stare at them, yet when one or two of them glanced up and stared back, she felt oddly self-conscious. Someone must have spoken, for collectively four of the five turned to look at her, almost as a unit. Even from this distance she could feel their gazes—hot, speculative, and questioning. She knew their question. Would she be one of them? Would she be out there tonight?
She gazed at them for a long moment, noting who was in the group. Nóruion, she could see, as well as Rúmil and Garavon. The fourth looked like Converen, although Rúmil was blocking her view of him. The fifth was the only one who did not turn and look, but she knew those shoulders and that stance. If he turned and looked her way now, Altariel was not sure how she would be able to maintain her composure.
As it was, she could only nod coolly, then turn and walk away. She climbed the remaining steps, not knowing if they still watched, but reluctant to reveal her interest by looking back again.
And yet, in the end, she did.
He was gazing straight at her this time, drilling her with his gaze. His face revealed little, but on the inside, was he wondering, speculating, perhaps imagining as she imagined? Perhaps not. Perhaps he was as cool and aloof as he so often seemed.
They were acquainted and they had spoken, but they were hardly friends. She knew little of what went on in his mind, his days, or his life. Could he be the one? And would she be disappointed if he was not?
If she went tonight, she would know for certain. Perhaps. It was conceivable that no one would come for her, that the one she sought was simply not in Lórien. Perhaps that was really what had stopped her last time, the idea that she would not find him, that he would not come for her for whatever reason. The thought of returning to her talan, shattered and disappointed, alone and unsought, had been too much to bear. But this time she was prepared to take that risk.
One night to find out.
He had waited to turn to look at her, and then he had watched her climb the stairs, transfixed by the tantalizing sway of her hips.
His detachment was fast escaping him, he noted, as he fought the erotic images swirling in his head. At this moment any female aroused his interest, but it would be fair to say that Altariel interested him more than most, although he knew that could very well change once the sun went down.
He had lived through many hunts.
Only once had he participated—the last hunt, in fact—and that single hunt had for him been an unequivocal disaster. The memory still pained him when he allowed himself to think about it, which was almost never.
Prior to that, he had always forced himself to resist the inexorable pull, several times resorting to lashing himself to some immovable object and tossing away his knife until someone—one of his brothers, usually—found him the next morning and set him free, rebuking him for his stubbornness.
He'd wanted to prove to himself that he was stronger than the primitive urges in his blood, but instead, with every hunt that came and went, he'd found it increasingly harder to resist. The call had tormented him, the unrelenting frustration and need to surrender to it driving him almost to the brink of madness.
And so here he stood with the others, knowing that he would go.
Rúmil would also go; he was one of the few who ever spoke of it. Rúmil went every time, exulting in the thrill of the chase with Tûriel, whom he had met on his very first hunt. Orophin and Delwen had also met on a hunt; they were long bonded, but even they might well decide to indulge.
He had come to believe that many found it enjoyable; they simply did not talk about it.
Memories of the last hunt hurtled through his head, and for a moment he relived the emotions he had felt. Why would he put himself through that again? Why would he take the risk?
The answer thrummed in his blood.
Aye, he would go. Against his better judgment he would try again, hoping that this time the one he sought would be out there somewhere.
The sun was not even down, and already he could feel the first subtle tendrils of the call reverberating through his body. He shuddered inwardly, knowing full well that the call was strongest for unbonded males, and strongest of all for those who resisted.
He had learned that the hard way.
An hour before sunset, Altariel slipped on the gown she had saved for this occasion. She had no idea what others might wear, but she couldn't imagine wearing a tunic and leggings, even though they might be more practical in some regard. No, she could run very well in a gown; that was not a concern. It was of far more importance to feel alluring and seductive and strong. It would give her confidence, and truth to tell, right now she was nervous in a way that she had not been a few hours ago.
The gown was perfect. A soft grey, the fabric was delicate yet strong enough not to tear on thorns. Its weave was tight, the threads so gossamer thin that she almost felt naked, which indeed she was beneath the gown.
With its low neckline, it had to be the most provocative thing she had ever worn. She turned sideways, admiring the way it clung to her body, blatantly outlining the curves of her contours. If she stood in bright light, it would be too revealing, but in the dark of the forest, it would help her blend into the shadows. Soft leather shoes completed her outfit, but she wasn't done yet.
She strapped a knife to the inside of her thigh, another to her hip, and a third to her left calf. She then braided her long hair in the way of the wardens so that the long side pieces would not hinder her sight. Returning to her mirror, she noticed a smoldering blaze lighting the depths of her blue eyes. Apparently the urge was already creeping into her, heightening her anticipation of what was to come.
As sunset drew nigh, she pulled on a dark cloak to hide her gown and her face, and left her talan. Everyone would stay inside tonight to give privacy to those who slipped quietly out of the city and into the woods. Her heart pounding, she covered her hair with the cloak's hood and kept her head down, seeking neither to see or be seen, although she could sense that others were also leaving the city. She did not look at them or seek their identities, respecting their privacy as they respected hers.
At last she stepped into the forest, walking until she came to a familiar spot, one she could easily find later. Shivering with exhilaration, she removed her cloak and tucked it into the curve of a tree to be retrieved later.
It was the last rational thing she did, for just at that moment the sun disappeared behind the Misty Mountains. The moment it happened, she felt it—an odd, rushing sensation in her veins, followed by a surge of heat.
In the blink of an eye everything changed. All at once she knew what it was like to be prey. Excitement vanished and the urge to flee took over, a primitive instinct that was far stronger than she had expected.
She set out quickly, breaking into an easy run that took her deeper into the woods. A part of her was still able to analyze her own actions and find them amazing, but that part was fast receding into the distant corners of her mind. Her focus was becoming more primal; she knew the urge to mate, but knew also that she would flee from the only one she would accept.
And she would force that one to prove himself worthy, to hunt her and claim her, and she had no intention of making it easy for him. This little she had known beforehand; it was why she had the knives.
Curiously, she found she had no trouble sensing other elves in the forest; she could easily feel their presence and automatically steer clear of them, as an animal would steer clear of creatures that did not interest it.
She also found that one of her deepest instincts was to go far into the forest to seek a place of complete isolation and privacy.
A place from which she could defend herself.
A place where she would eventually allow herself to be taken—but not without a struggle.
Haldir forced himself to wait some minutes after sunset. If she was out there, as he prayed she was, it was only fair to give her a small head start—not that it would avail her anything since he would find her and take her no matter how much head start she had. Arrogantly, he assumed she would not long elude him, an experienced warden. However, to capture her too quickly might humiliate her and could possibly diminish a portion of the pleasure for them both.
So he would wait a short while.
Each excruciating moment seemed an eternity, but he stubbornly fought within himself, standing quite still just outside the gates of Caras Galadhon while he stared off into the forest and resisted as long as he could bear. While he waited, his sharp eyes picked out a number of silent shadow figures drifting toward the wood. By some means he could not fathom, he found himself able to assess them with a visceral awareness, a talent that had come upon him only in the last few minutes. Where was she? Who was she?
Not that one, nor that one, nor that one, nor . . . wait.
His senses sharpened. A faint sensation curled inside him, a wispy tug that he had never felt before. Could it be . . . ?
Now it was gone. Perhaps in his over-eagerness he had imagined it.
He ground his teeth and nearly snarled aloud. Valar help him if she was not out there this time.
But it was too late to go back. He had no will to resist, no way to turn back. His pulse was pounding and, though he was loath to admit it, his body shook with an unleashed hunger that was far beyond his power to defy.
Something inside him snapped, dissolving the last remnants of his control. Any urge to offer fairness vanished. He took off at a run, reaching ahead of him with his preternatural new sense to test the area.
He still did not feel her, but he was not discouraged. He sensed females, several of them, as well as other males, but none that reached into him and connected with his fëa. None were the one he sought, but if she was out here, he would find her. Never had he been more determined on anything than this.
He would find her.
He kept moving, using all his senses, old and new, to scan the woods around him. He could feel several others and was able to identify their gender and location, but they were not the one he sought.
And then it came—that fluttering, irresistible little tug that almost skittered away. Almost, but not quite. He gave a feral smile.
Guided only by instinct, he ran lightly and swiftly, halting every so often to evaluate with his head cocked to the side, almost sniffing the air as a wolf would do. He could form no words and could barely think, but his senses were heightened to an extraordinary new level. It was as though he could smell every plant and animal in the entire Golden Wood, feel each patch of rough bark or spongy moss without the need to even stretch out his hand. He could hear the trees growing, the sighs of slumbering birds, the shuffling insects burrowing beneath moldering leaves. The shadows held a thousand shades of black and gray, yet he could discern color too, and far more easily than he had ever done before in the blackness of the night.
Intoxicated with consciousness of everything around him, he knew an extraordinary oneness with the forest and its creatures, yet he also felt himself to be a thing apart, an intruder of sorts. He was a hunter. He could hear the roar of his blood throbbing in his veins, reminding him of that which he sought.
Now it came again, that seductive tug on his fëa, as though she were luring him, even taunting him to try and find her.
His jaw hardened. He would not submit to taunts; he would find her and teach her. He would take her over and over until she learned not to toy with him. He was the hunter, she was the quarry. This was the only coherent thought of which he was capable.
Surrounded by huge forest trees, he scanned the area around and above him purposefully, but saw and sensed nothing of interest. He was about to move on when he felt the tug again. It was stronger this time, feminine but not as coy, and seemed to challenge him.
A great surge of heat shot straight to his loins, igniting his desires to an even greater height. Nearly dizzy with lust, he growled deep in his throat and sent his reply directly to her fëa, letting her feel his strength and power.
Finding her now would not be difficult. No matter how hard she tried, she would find no place to hide from him.
His urge to mate was ferocious as he set out to track her, this mysterious and audacious female whose fëa was now connected to his own.
This hunt would be different from the last one. He would not be disappointed.
Altariel paused for breath, her slim body quivering. For some time now she had been able to sense him, but instead of elation or anticipation, she knew only the panicked impulse to run. Her mind and body were caught up in this primitive dance, flooded with the emotions that any hunted creature would feel when being pursued through a darkened forest.
Her heart was hammering, both from running and from the primal emotions pouring through her, overruling her ability to think or reason. She had no room for curiosity or expectation; she only knew it was imperative to evade him for as long as possible. Although defeat was inevitable, it was essential to stave off his victory until she had proved herself worthy. She would be no easy capture. She must be strong, clever and swift.
And he, too, must prove himself. She must give him the chance to do that.
She glanced upward, tempted to take to the trees. Instinct prevailed, and she began to climb, moving rapidly and gracefully upward into the heights. From there she moved along the great limbs, leaping easily from tree to tree until she had traveled quite some distance. She paused, listening tensely for any sound or movement, but she heard nothing other than the screech of a distant owl. But then she wouldn't hear him, would she? He would move as silently as she did.
Even so, he was pursuing her; she could feel him. Whoever he was, she knew he was coming for her. He was determined and in the end, he would catch her. She knew this.
He was closer now than he had been before, when she had first felt his powerful stroke upon her fëa. His touch had been aggressive and demanding, but she had fended him off at first, until she had realized the futility of it. Then she had turned and demanded back in a bold show of courage.
She closed her eyes, allowing herself to feel him so that she might assess how near he was. Yes, he was there at the other end of this invisible, inexorable cord. She tugged it again in another show of boldness, an instinctual tactic that seemed quite natural, as a creature of nature would try to look more fierce than it was.
His response was direct, domineering, and so male that she gasped, her eyes flying open in shock. Again she knew the urge to flee, but this time from the trees.
Never could she fight him up here with her knives, hampered by a skirt and at this height above the ground! She began to descend, traversing lower as she leapt from tree to tree until eventually she reached the ground. She took a moment to see from which direction he approached, and then took off in the opposite direction.
He knew he was gaining on her. He had increased his speed, sensing that she was trying to draw away from him.
So she thought she could escape him, did she? He almost snorted, but instead he pushed himself to move even faster, his hair flying out behind him in the breeze.
He was used to running; he knew he had to be far more fit than she was, and without a doubt he was also more fleet of foot. He could continue like this for hours, but could she? He doubted it, and was slightly surprised he had not overtaken her already. Apparently she had some stamina. Good, she would need it.
However, by the time he reached her, she would be exhausted and unable to resist him. She would beg him to take her, he thought exultantly. She would yield without a fight, and allow him whatever liberties he chose. And he would take plenty of them. His need had never been so intense as it was at this moment, as this elleth would soon discover to her very great pleasure.
He halted suddenly, realizing that her trail turned upward into the boughs of the trees. He reached out and touched the bark of a great mallorn, the one he somehow knew she had recently scaled.
A wave of her essence slammed into him, granting him his first real taste of her feminine arousal. It consumed him for a moment, inciting his desire to conquer and to claim.
He shuddered, aware that her hand had touched the bark in this exact place only a short while before. His fingers curled into a fist, as if to lock some part of her into his hand while he debated whether to follow her path upward or to continue at ground level. He used their invisible link to help him decide, taking this unfair advantage with no hesitation whatsoever, and immediately knew that she was no longer in the trees. To climb would waste time, time that could be far better spent in mating.
He smiled and continued on.
Altariel paused again, aware that she did not have much more time to choose the place. She sensed no others around; instinctively she'd been careful in that respect even while fleeing, but he was close on her heels and would corner her soon. After that . . .
Her heart beat so hard that it felt like it would burst from her chest.
Her blind terror was fading into something else, something mesmerizing and defiant. Her body still shook, but less from panic than from renewed anticipation. Instead of fear, she now welcomed what was soon to occur. She looked forward to fighting him, to feeling his strength and power and maleness. Most of all, she looked forward to feeling him buried inside her, his skin pressed to hers, his mouth doing Valar knew what while she writhed beneath his ardent caresses.
To add to this, her curiosity had returned, reminding her that she still did not even know who he was, although she had her suspicions. His essence seemed familiar to her, and she could almost guess . . . or perhaps she only hoped.
She kept moving, searching for a place that suited her, a place she could defend. The sloping ground held numerous dips and hollows, but she wanted a place with a flat grassy area, without brambles or thorns. As the female, she knew that it was her responsibility to choose the place, for once he was upon her, there would be little or no delay. She had no doubt at all that his appetite for her was rapacious; she could feel his hunger for her all too easily. It would be all she could do to delay him at all.
Within moments she found it, a pleasant glade that would serve at the top of a rise. She reached beneath her skirt and drew out the knife strapped to her thigh, leaving the other, more accessible knives at the ready. She held the blade deftly, recalling the many lessons she'd had on self-protection. She had done well and learned much, perhaps even with this moment in mind.
No matter what he thought, he would find her no easy mark.
Closing her eyes, she tuned into him, knowing he would appear soon, and in a fit of defiance, she sent him a sharp tug, as though goading him for his failure to find her any sooner. His answer was arrogant, sending sizzling tremors of desire throughout her body.
He was fast approaching, she knew.
A part of her still wanted to flee, but she resisted, ready to stand her ground. He was almost here. She could not hear him, but she could sense him.
He was coming, aye. But he would not take her easily.
She was ready.
Haldir knew the moment she had stopped fleeing from him. Pleased, he slowed his pace, knowing that he would come upon her in an instant. He did not care what location she had chosen; he only wanted to conquer her, to triumph, to take her over and over and over until they were both sated and exhausted, and then he would take her again.
He halted, knowing he had only to take a few more steps and she would be there, waiting for him, wanting him as much as he wanted her.
Would she fight him? He didn't think so, but if she did, he would enjoy it immensely. His urge was to join his body with hers in complete dominance of male over female, and yet at the same time he wanted her to be his equal in courage and boldness.
And who was this elleth? In a moment he would find out.