Strange Harmonies, 2

Elrond? It was the last name Gil-galad had expected to hear. Elrond's assets were many, but being an older and more experienced lover was not one of them. If he had shared a bed with more than one or two male lovers since he came of age, the King would be highly surprised. And Elrond was Gildor's senior by fifty years, at most.

His astonishment was shared by many, to judge by the buzz arising in the hall and the number of raised eyebrows. The Peredhel's expression was more than merely astonished. As far as Gil-galad recalled no one had ever refused the honour of being chosen; it was hard to imagine a greater insult to someone newly come of age. But this could well be the first time, for it was only too obvious that Elrond was thoroughly dismayed by Gildor's choice.

As I am, Gil-galad admitted to himself.

The question was, whether Elrond Half-Elven was prepared to create a major scandal by saying no, and thereby forcing Gildor to make a new choice.

When the silence threatened to become oppressive the King gave tonight's Master of Ceremonies a small nudge. Sirnil blinked but regained his composure fast enough to ask the crucial question: 'Do you accept?'

Elrond rose, wiping his hands on his robe. He stared at Gildor, his gaze unwavering, and suddenly the younger Elf seemed to become aware of the questionable character of his choice, for a look of uncertainty crossed his fair face. Elrond opened his mouth.

'I do,' he said, his voice remarkably composed. A collective sigh swept through the hall, reminding of the wind stirring the rushes of Lake Alphrim*. No one - with the possible exception of Galadriel, who eyed him pensively - noticed that the King's personal sigh was not one of released tension.

When Elrond reached out his hand to Gildor, Gil-galad looked away - straight into a face that seemed to mirror his own unhappiness: that of Celebrimbor, son of Curufin. The sight was slightly disturbing, so he turned his head again, to see Elrond and Gildor step onto the terrace. So they would leave by the path leading down from the castle, all the way to the small cove that so many couples favoured for their trysts?

Suddenly, he blinked. Who was that cloaked figure in the shadows at the end of the terrace, watching the two pass by and causing Gildor to freeze for more than just a fleeting moment?

When he saw Inglor's face, Gil-galad knew the answer. So Gildor's mother had come, after all, shrouded in sorrow and rejection.

***

'Why did you have to choose me?' Elrond demanded to know, while they descended the steep path to the cove at the foot of the rocks. 'We are not even friends.'

'But what does this have to do with friendship? said Gildor. 'Is it not about experience in the ways of the flesh? Pleasure. Is that not the point of it?'

'I wish I could believe that,' Elrond said. 'But I cannot. If you truly take me to be your experienced older lover, I am not sure whether to feel flattered or misjudged. If you do not, I may decide to feel annoyed. So let me repeat it. Why me?'

They halted, about halfway down. Elrond sensed he was on the right track, convinced as he was that Gildor had not made his definite choice until he actually spoke the name.

The son of Inglor opened his mouth, shut it and opened it again. Elrond expected yet another evasive answer, a quip, an ambiguous remark. To his surprise, however, the face of his would-be lover turned deadly serious.

'You are beautiful,' he said. 'You are the great-grandson of Lúthien Tinúviel, and even though I never saw her, I can begin to imagine what she was like when I look at you, Elrond Peredhel. You are mysterious. A strain of mortality runs through you, even though you chose to be named among the Eldar. But you also have a foremother whose flesh was but a raiment worn freely, and not of necessity. You have a twin brother who chose the Gift of Ilúvatar and will pass beyond the circles of this world. And I tell you,' and Gildor stepped closer and laid his hands on Elrond's shoulders, 'that the mystery pulls stronger and more insistently than the beauty. I am insatiably curious. I want to know all there is to know, see all there is to see and seek all there is to find. If my eyes could pierce the veil of the heavens and the surface of the sea and the rock beneath our feet, I would look beyond the stars, into the depths of the ocean and into the heart of the earth. They cannot, but you can show me a glimpse of it all.'

His face was close to Elrond's, a fair face, strong, sharp, with bright eyes and a finely sculpted mouth. But it was, indeed, a face that seemed to want something.

'It seems that you want to know the entire Music of the Ainur and a little more,' Elrond said, 'but if you seek it in me, you would to well to remember that my house has been a home of sorrows from childhood on. My life is marred like Arda. Seek me, and what you may find in the end is sorrow.'

'Yet I cannot imagine that sorrow is all you have to give,' Gildor replied too quickly.

'Perhaps not, but it will be part of the package.'

'Nonetheless it is you I want tonight, not someone else. Suffering is a part of passion.'

Where had he picked up that one? 'Are you sure that you did not merely want to do the unexpected?' And wishing he could return to the castle, Elrond resumed his downward climb.

The younger Elf hurried to join him, but discovering that the path was too narrow for two people to walk abreast, he pushed past Elrond to take the lead. 'If that were so, would it preclude the rest of what I said?' he countered.

Elrond suppressed a sigh. He was none too eager to be Gildor's key to the mysteries of Eä; even being used as a provocation or simply a means to draw attention seemed better. Such things were eventually forgotten, and they not include the risk of disappointment and failure.

'It would not,' he answered finally. Taking a few quick steps to catch up with Gildor he put an arm around his shoulder. This enabled them to go side by side after all, and perhaps it would bring them more closely together in another sense as well.

After what seemed a remarkable long pause, given his earlier statement about wanting him, the younger Elf copied his gesture. Elrond was surprised to find that their joined descent had nothing awkward, as is sometimes the case when two people walking in this manner fail to find a rhythm, because the size of their legs or the way they move does not match.

'Is this a suitable place?' Gildor asked when they reached the rock-sheltered cove with its small, sandy beach.

Elrond was slightly amused. 'I cannot imagine that anyone will deliberately stalk us.' He turned to face his pupil - only to notice that despite the semblance of intimacy during their descent, Gildor was looking uneasy - as if the pose he had assumed until now suddenly became too difficult to maintain.

This would require surety of touch, Elrond realised. The question was, whether he was up to the task, for he felt more nervous than during his own First Time.

***

'Are you not supposed to kiss me now?' Gildor broke the silence on the beech before it could become too oppressive.

'If that is what you want,' Elrond said, but instead of waiting for a reaction he stepped closer. While one of his arms encircled Gildor's waist, the other went up, the hand first tracing the outline of an ear, then stroking his hair, and finally pressing against the back of his head to bring their mouths together.

Gildor had been cheating, to a certain degree. He had been kissed before, even more than once, and he thought he knew what to expect.

He was wrong. If the others had been dallying, Elrond was most certainly not. His lips and tongue claimed all they could of Gildor's mouth, and Gildor felt the rest of himself being pulled along, irresistibly - and unresisting. First he felt a tingle, from the soles of his feet to the roots of his hair, then he felt his limbs go weak and his spine melt, and all the while a slow tension built in his groin. How long it lasted he was unable to tell, but there was a moment when all he wanted was to sink bonelessly to the beach with Elrond and let their bodies dissolve into sand to be washed out by the slow, mild tide of the Gulf.

Or did he?

Suddenly, Elrond ended the kiss. 'Is something wrong?' he asked softly.

'What makes you think so?' Gildor gasped.

'You stiffened.'

'I did not...' Gildor began, until he realised it was true. 'I guess I did. Never mind. Go on, please.'

Elrond shook his head. He let go of Gildor. 'You say that you want mystery, that you want to fathom the depths of Eä - yet you seem unable to surrender to another child of Arda, who is after all but a tiny part of the universe.'

Gildor was taken aback. He had not expected Elrond to demand surrender. Gil-galad, yes. Celebrimbor, not unlikely. But Elrond?

'How can I guide you, unless you are prepared to go all the way?' the Half-Elven went on.

'Please, will you try again?' Gildor asked. He began to wonder if he was not getting rather more than he had bargained for.

Elrond eyed him gravely, but his next words seemed to belie his expression. 'You bet! I will not acknowledge defeat so easily.'

Unable to help himself, Gildor chuckled - and was swept into Elrond's embrace again. This time, they did end up on the beach, and in the mean time they had somehow rid themselves, or each other, of their clothes. Everything appeared to be going as it should now, for Elrond did not call a halt. But as they lay down beside him and the hand of his chosen one came to rest lightly on his hip, Gildor found himself on edge again. He did not understand. He wanted this badly, nor had Elrond's kisses and touches failed to arouse him. And still...

He closed his eyes in dismay and he murmured: 'I feel terribly nervous.'

Elrond removed his hand. 'Are you afraid it will hurt to be taken?'

'I do not fear pain,' Gildor replied immediately, at the same time realising how defiant he sounded. 'I assure you that is not the problem,' he added, more softly and in all sincerity. He stared up at the moon. It was not quite full, and it seemed to pull a face at him. Why not just get up, dress and leave? He had made a hideous mistake.

However, as he raised himself tentatively on an elbow, Elrond gently pushed him down. 'Please, stay.' He pulled Gildor closer. 'You say you do not fear pain. But I think you do fear something. That your mother is right about the Laws and Customs of the Eldar. That somehow, you will find yourself bound to me if we join our bodies tonight. And you do not want to be bound to anyone yet.' His lips briefly touched Gildor's. 'Do you think I want it? But we can never be sure what the results of our deeds are. We do not know the Music as a whole, only the notes we produce at any particular moment. But that must not stop us from sounding.'

Gildor found himself touching Elrond's hair, which obviously had a life of its own, for his braids seemed to be undoing themselves. He realised that part of what Elrond said was true: he was afraid. Not of being bound, but of being touched. Glimpsing an abstract mystery was not dangerous. Glimpsing another child of Ilúvatar was. And Elrond definitely chose to be the latter.

And he began to understand. The bond his mother was so anxious about could never be someting that established itself. It was established by the people on either end, but sometimes one side ended in a void. That was the risk you ran.

He felt Elrond's hand stroke his back, soothingly, as if he were an animal that needed to be calmed.

'I think,' he said, 'that I do fear pain after all. But I also think I am willing to face it now.'

'I do not plan to hurt you,' Elrond said, deliberately interpreting his words litterally. 'I will let you take me.'

***

Gil-galad could not help himself, or so he told the watchdog inside him who warned him not to follow Elrond and Gildor. When he thought no one was paying attention he slipped out, crossed the terrace and began to make his way down the path leading to the Gulf.

He knew he ought to be ashamed of himself. And he knew he ought to protect himself against the pain it would cause to watch Elrond make love to someone else. If he had known beforehand that Gildor Inglorion would choose Elrond, of all people, he would have defied his own rule and approached the son of Eärendil, his very own star, to declare him his love, claim him, and take him to his bed.

Ten steps further down he admitted this was nonsense. If he did such a thing he would never be wholly sure of Elrond's feelings for him, even if Elrond would seem willing or eager.

'Damn!' he said aloud, while his boot connected with a stone on the path and sent it bounding downhill.

'Damn who, or what?' said a voice closely behind him. Turning, Gil-galad looked into the face of Celebrimbor, son of Curufin. Where had he come from? He was supposed to notice when someone came sneaking up behind him! Too preoccupied for his own good.

'Where are you going?' he asked, too sharply.

'Down,' was the answer. 'Just like you, it seems.'

His assessment had been correct, then, Gil-galad thought: Celebrimbor, too, deplored Gildor's choice. 'Why?' he asked.

Instead of answering Celebrimbor merely asked: 'And you?'

It was not the King's habit to prevaricate. 'To torture myself by watching them. You?'

'Misery loves company,' the son of Curufin told him.

Gil-galad halted, frowning, wondering briefly why Celebrimbor should take an interest in Elrond - until the truth dawned on him.

'All right,' he said. 'Let us suffer together, then.'

Celebrimbor smiled mirthlessly, and they continued their downward course.

They halted about fifty feet above the cove, on a ledge full of last year's leaves. Down on the moonlit beach, Gildor and Elrond were doing what they were supposed to do, Gil-galad saw, and he was filled with equal measures of shame, jealousy and excitement. For a moment, he considered chastising himself and retracing his steps. Instead, he sat down to peer through the bristling bushes. Celebrimbor followed his example.

They watched for a while. Celebrimbor, too, seemed to have trouble getting his breath under control. When Gil-galad turned his head he was met by the other's stare.

After a while Celebrimbor said: 'I wonder if three feet nine would be enough?'

'Three feet nine?'

'The width of this ledge,' Celebrimbor explained. 'I know such things without having to use a measuring rod.'

'It will do, I think.' Gil-galad almost laughed aloud, recognizing this for the invitation it was. Not the one he had been hoping and waiting for, these last few years. But sometimes, wishes fulfilled themselves in weird ways of their own. He did not really want Celebrimbor. But as the sentiment or rather the lack of any sentiment was mutual, nothing kept them from seeking mutual release. That Celebrimbor, always aloof, would seek it with him was a little surprising. But he had no intention of questioning it tonight. 'Yes, it is definitely wide enough,' he added.

His Midsummernight companion laid a hand on Gil-galad's thigh, and they turned towards each other.

***

'So now you know,' Elrond said, combing through Gildor's long tresses with his fingers and starting to divide them into strands. In a way, it was a relief they had to rebraid each other's hair and could not sit face to face.

'Yes,' Gildor replied softly. He realised how generous Elrond had been, for he had hurt him, and was no love between them of the kind that could mitigate the pain. Here was a brush with sorrow he had not expected: having to endure another's endurance, both of the body, and of the soul.

'Elrond?' he said.

'Yes?'

'Do you regret not refusing me when I chose you?'

For a moment, Elrond's hands ceased their work. 'Did you find what you sought? Did you see that glimpse of Everything you were looking for? Hear a little more of the Music than the note that is you?'

When Gildor remained silent he added: 'Do not hesitate to say no, merely because you feel sorry for me.'

'But I did see it, and hear it,' Gildor said truthfully. He had, though he had no longer been looking for it. Or perhaps because he had not looked for it. 'And I was right, for I found it in you. But you were right, too.'

'About what?'

'About the sorrow at the end of it.'

Elrond began to braid Gildor's hair, very carefully, as if he was afraid it would hurt if he pulled just a little to hard. And strange as it seemed Gildor could feel him smile, though he could not see his face. He also felt it was not a triumphant or even a satisfied smile. 'I would rather have been wrong about that,' he replied after a while.

'If anyone was wrong, it was my mother,' Gildor said. 'Her precious Laws do not allow for shortcomings and mistakes.'

'Still, she was at the Ceremony, even though she did remain on the terrace. You may not have looked at her, but I did. She knows about shortcomings, I think.'

He felt not at all comfortable. 'You have not answered my question yet.'

'I regret nothing,' Elrond said. 'Though I may change my mind if you do not braid my hair properly. Yours is finished.'

'I like challenges.' Gildor rose and knelt behind Elrond. It was a challenge, he saw, but one he was up to.

*The lake is Soledad's, the name Aerlinnel's