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The Last Alone

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The terms of surrender, when they arrive, are unacceptable. Penury for Mirkwood, if King Thorin will not relent; death in battle for all the sons and daughters of the Greenwood, shame before the nations, and no part at all in the bright dawn that spreads across Middle-Earth.

For the news from the south is like a spring breeze, stirring the still bare branches of bleeding Mirkwood, provoking green vines to twist and upheave among the ruins of the Necromancer's old abode (empty for years, and now devoid of his presence entirely). Since Sauron-- for, oh yes, it was him all that time, and Thranduil proven no fool-- had departed on wings of wrath and gone to Mordor, all the tides of evil and misfortune in the world seemed to have turned, first gathering in an awful swell and then dissipated in one moment of glorious light.

A halfling, the whispers say. The kin of Bilbo, no less, the hobbit who brokered the trades that saved Erebor, that reconciled Man and Elf and Dwarf on the eve of battle and put five hundred elves between the dour mountain-king and the orc horde that meant to butcher him. Erebor has grown strong, since; Thranduil wonders what hidden arts Bilbo uncovered in its caves, that his nephew might have borne that power into Mordor and prevailed where so many armies have failed...

But if that evil was snuffed, other, smaller evils have taken their place. So few years since the great evil of Mirkwood moved to the south-- Thranduil has always taken the long eye, and assuming that his old allies would be licking their wounds for some time, he has set about the patient labor of rebuilding his lands from the ground up.

He has long dreamt of a Greenwood restored, and closed off. The caves, once hewn from desperation, are very beautiful now, and remind him of caves still older. Would his people not dwell happily in a closed land, now that its own fruits will be sufficient for their bread? Is his illusion not strong enough to turn wanderers back upon their heels?

So he has turned down offers for more... lasting alliances. And, in his arrogance, he has permitted himself the luxury of falling to old prejudice, and slighting the dwarves not a little, despite Thorin's letters-- which are warm, for such a cold race, and for the dark hard hunger and resolve that Thranduil has seen in Thorin's eyes of late.

Of late... ten, fifteen years ago, during their last attempt at parley. Darkness covered the world then, and threatened worse. Thranduil wonders how dark Thorin's eyes are now, or if the joy of sending this missive has put fierce light in them. An enormous tax, and tribute fit to break Gondor itself; a conscription of fifty elves, to be replaced should they fall in war; near slavery, the stripping away of rights and customs, the burial of the caverns.

Intolerable. And yet, with dwarven armies under the eaves of Mirkwood, with supply lines a mile wide and entire herds of oxen to feed the swords and axes of Erebor... Mirkwood, the last lonely kingdom, has no strength to match it, and Thorin knows.

Thranduil's hand falters, and a slip of parchment flutters to the floor, heavy with ink. In austere writing, a hand quite different from the rest, it proposes other, briefer terms:



An honor guard of ten trained elves, to see battle only at my side

Thirty oaks a year, two ells or more in diameter each

Fifty sides of venison a year, with hides

A brandy-cask of moonstones a year, of size not less than a pigeon's egg each

Twenty ells of best-quality fabric a year

Free passage for Erebor upon request in any direction

Writ of nonaggression against Erebor and all other allied dwarven kingdoms

Your body bound and spread at wrists and ankles, to do with as I please from midnight to dawn, once a year, beginning a fortnight from this night




Each new item fills Thranduil with hope-- such light terms, more petty theft than ruin, and Mirkwood left unyoked? Only after he lets himself breathe, lets hope uncurl in his chest, does he see the final item.

The meaning is clear. Thranduil presses his eyes with the heels of his hands, imagining fifty youths marching away to die on the front lines of Thorin's next battle, imagining building crews diverted to heavy mining...

...The alternative, he can hardly even picture. Bound, the note says. Spread. He tries and fails to convince himself that Thorin means to lash him.

The illusion of choice makes it so much more awful. He pens his reply with a shaking hand, seals it thrice, and hates himself before the departing courier's footsteps cease their echoes.

 


 

A fortnight finds him breathing mist into the icy air, his ankles chilled by dew from the grass as he steps. He has traveled leagues in disguise, accompanied by his closest guards, hidden from all prying eyes; many, many years have passed since he put off his robes of state, and the rough, simple tunic and deep gray hood are as strange to him as different skin. The night is not bitter cold, but there is a snap to it, and when they reach the appointed place, he is glad for the great fire built at his guards' camp.

From the fireside, he can see the low hillock, faintly illumined by the sliver of the moon, where a ring of great oaks rises from the rolling landscape-- perhaps an old farm, or a fort, now succumbed to nature's compelling force? Thranduil shivers.

The black leaves of the trees tremble about him as midnight approaches, and his guards turn their backs respectfully. They know, as most of the elves of Mirkwood will not, the terms of this agreement; they know enough, at least, not to speak, and for the next six hours they will watch and patrol, ringing the hillock, passing the dwarves who will also guard their king. Thranduil's sharp ears already pick up the low rolling hum of dwarves chanting some ancient story to pass the time. The sound adds an air of ritual to the night, like the stippled white-blonde of grass in the cold night, like the hum and chime of insects all about.

He sheds his tunic, his boots, his dew-soaked hose; he lets them lie upon the fire-dried moss, where his men will spread them-- his throat goes tight-- will arrange them to dry before he returns. A ewer of water stands by, warming on a brazier. There is even a pavilion, a simple tent where he can rest if need be upon his return, no doubt stocked with herbs and ointments to speed any recovery he needs.

None of this will shield him from what happens this night. The cold air licks at his naked skin, tendrils of a breeze; then, summoned by his stillness, his guards return to him, six pairs of hands bearing a great sheet of smoky cloth, not heavy enough to outline his nude form under the weight of its own gravity, but not quite diaphanous either. It is embroidered about the very edge, like a funeral wrap, and it is without sleeve or seam or opening for his head. It drapes him and hides his face, as if he is an object to be stored, or a bride going to her wedding.

The guards surround him, and softly they all step as one from the firelight into the moonlight, to walk the quarter-league to the hillock through the rippling grass and the faint moonlight. Anyone seeing would behold six elves in charcoal-gray tunics, knives sheathed in trust, guiding by the sound of their footsteps the tall indistinguishable shape of the humbled elf-king beneath his smoke-purple veil. The thought is meant to lend Thranduil some dignity; instead he feels like the sacrifice he is.

The feeling only grows as they pass within the ring of oaks, where torches are set in sconces upon the trees, and in the center of the circle a heap of bear-skins forms a rough bed. The firelight here is a mockery of the warm safe glow at the campsite, flickering shadows cast all about and cold moonlight slipping through the boughs.

At the four corners of the bed of furs are four stakes, great artless iron things with cruel hooks at the top; and across the small clearing stands Thorin himself, dark of gaze and wicked of mouth, arms crossed and richly clad in cloak and tunic and trousers. Thranduil quails at the sight of him, at the ever-strange realization that Thorin is not so much shorter than a Man, and much broader, and very much stronger. The price seems now unbearably high, and he wants to turn away, to hurl himself into the dark and let his forest burn.

Fortunately, his guards are merciful, and as he wills himself to stillness they unveil him, pulling away the veil to leave him exposed and helpless, where Thorin's gaze fixes him to the spot like a spear pins the prey to the earth. The silent hunger in that gaze is dizzying, like wine without bread, and for the first time Thranduil realizes that Thorin has not chosen this tribute merely to humiliate him.

The faint breath of power that Thranduil finds in this, that Thorin desires his body, holds him in place while his guards bind his arms and ankles with loose trailing ropes, smooth and gentle; but when they make to guide him to the bed of furs, Thorin barks at them: "You've done enough. Leave him."

And leave him they do, standing barefoot and breathing hard in the dry earth of the oaken circle, disappearing into the night to leave their sacrifice for the dwarven conqueror.

Thorin approaches him, circles him; he is close enough that his breath falls hot upon Thranduil's naked shoulder, but he does not touch. Up and down he looks, like a merchant considering a horse, hands clasped behind him. Thranduil cannot help himself-- he is, after all, a king, and if he is not one of the greatest beauties of elvendom he knows Thorin will find no fault in him.

"Are you a great lover of statuary, then," he says, flexing his fingers, unable to keep the wry reproach from his voice.

Thorin chuckles, passing behind Thranduil's back again, a lock of his hair brushing Thranduil's bicep this time; he knows he has won, and Thranduil will not easily goad him. But he stops in front of his captive this time, and addresses him directly: "I would have asked for two casks of moonstones, if I had known you were so eager."

Thranduil tilts his head mockingly. "Are your lovers generally less enthusiastic than this," he spits, remembering too late that the failure of Erebor and Mirkwood to ally has roots not only in Thorin's dark distance but also in the spite that Thranduil cannot smother when he sees Thorin's face.

But there is no more time to reflect on his folly, and as Thorin grasps him by the arms and pushes him backward, Thranduil finds himself stumbling and reaching out to grip his foe and keep his feet, only to be wrestled down onto the bed of furs, where he twists and squirms for a moment before realizing that these are merely the terms of the agreement.

Thorin's weight is warm after the chill of the night, though, and his beard is heavy as silk upon Thranduil's throat and breast; and when he stills himself and lets Thorin draw his arms upward to be bound to the stakes, he realizes with horror that he is stirring, that there is a flutter between his thighs and a faint heat in his belly.

If Thorin can tell, he does not remark upon it; but he binds Thranduil's ankles tightly with his legs spread wide, and the awkwardness of the position should be miserable, but instead Thranduil finds himself in growing horror as his body responds to Thorin's palms upon the length of his shins, to the press of Thorin's kneeling thigh against his side. This should not be; elves are not like wanton men, to spend their lust on every passing friction, and to find his flesh warming-- how can it rise to Thorin's touch when it is not so receptive to his own?

Having so bound him, Thorin rises, dusts his palms upon his cloak, and sets about disrobing with businesslike ease. The last hopeful inkling that Thorin will only have him whipped evaporates; Thorin is clearly here to defile him, and all the more clearly as he opens his knapsack and takes out a vial of oil.

Even the oil cannot keep Thranduil's eyes as Thorin approaches him, thumbing the cork open and testing it with one finger. Thorin is magnificent and terrible, broad in shoulder, with smooth-edged swathes of thick dark hair upon his chest and descending from his navel. Thranduil has never counted himself one for bestial pleasures, but he can feel the flush rising along his throat.

It does not stop him from protesting a little as Thorin grips his thighs, raises them, and kneels so that Thranduil's own thighs are spread across them, exposing him completely. Nor does it stop his breath from coming fast and terrified when Thorin pours the oil on him, letting it trickle from the juncture of thigh and groin down into Thranduil's cleft, smearing it with one thumb.

He half expects to be violated immediately; but when Thorin leans over him and takes one nipple into his mouth, Thranduil almost wishes he were suffering a brutal desecration. For his body responds immediately, though his throat aches from the effort of keeping voice from the chorus of no and no please I've made a mistake that is forming upon his lips. He does not dare stop now, not with the new terms so close; but the flat of Thorin's broad tongue is rough on his nipple and terribly hot, and the sensation is at once sweet and utterly awful.

Then teeth-- sharp pain shoots through him, and he makes the mistake of arching his back, which earns him a grunt of reprimand from Thorin and a merciless pinch to his other nipple. Thranduil whines and hisses, but after a moment the pinch subsides to a roll of thumb against finger. Thorin torments him thus for what seems like half an age, resting his weight upon one hand buried in the furs, twisting and pinching and biting between interludes of soothing stimulation.

Long before he stops, Thranduil is so hard he can feel each heartbeat in his cock, and so ashamed at his response that he simply lies, eyes averted and gasping, limp upon the bear-skins while Thorin shifts himself.

This assault is worse, and the ropes digging into Thranduil's skin become unbearable for their restraint as Thorin licks and bites along his throat, teeth bearing deep marks into the skin that leave Thranduil groaning his complaints, lips following the shape of Thranduil's ear with awful intimacy, like a lover instead of a captor. Worst of all, Thorin's cock-- heavy and full and twitching-- is now lying against Thranduil's leg, unmistakable in its intent.

Still Thranduil makes himself bear it, biting his cheek until he draws blood, as Thorin enjoys the tension in his shoulders and smooths his hands along Thranduil's heaving sides like a craftsman taking pride in his work. When those strong fingers curve around behind him, however, and Thranduil feels the strength of Thorin's grip upon his buttocks, he loses himself for a moment and pleads: "No, please, no--"

Thorin stops. He is not frozen, as if doing wrong; but he proceeds no further for a moment. "Do you wish to renege on our agreement," he says, thunder in his voice.

"I-- no-- I accept the terms--" Thranduil cannot imagine what he should say. Of course he doesn't want this: to be driven half mad with sensation by his enemy, to be penetrated and rutted open by thick dwarven cock, to be bruised and left filthy for his men to find...

But he will make the trade. He is determined to make the trade. He takes long, shuddering breaths in an effort to steady himself.

"Then shall I take all further protests as symbolic?" Thorin's voice is practically a growl, but Thranduil recognizes the mercy in it, and against himself he warms to his opponent.

"Yes," says Thranduil, privately resolving to keep all further protests in tight check-- and immediately finding his resolve tested, as Thorin presses his face to Thranduil's throat and breathes deeply, enjoying his scent. It leaves Thranduil feeling naked, vulnerable, wretched; a moment later Thorin shifts again and his heavy thick cock lies next to Thranduil's, and the pressure is not as great as the violation of Thorin's full length spread across him like a blanket, pressing him into the maddening ruffle of fur against his back.

When Thorin pulls himself upright again, Thranduil forces himself to look, and the breath leaves him at the sight of Thorin's cock. He has known for centuries that men and dwarves are different, larger; he has even seen, upon rare occasion, that men have alarmingly long members. Thranduil himself is counted well-endowed among elves, though not remarkable-- he has read of elves born with folds between their legs who, with the sages' healing herbs and philters, developed shafts as large as his own-- and while he knows himself well-read in the healing arts and well-exposed to at least the concept of human and dwarven sexuality, he has never imagined a cock so thick.

Surely it will not be so terrible, he tells himself. Surely he can take it. The pain will only help ground him, will remind his wayward body that he is meant to be a sacrifice, not a participant. It is not so large.

The first finger that opens him, slick with oil and unforgiving, proves him false, and his whole body convulses as protests spill from his lips. He cannot choke them back, terror and strange sensation stripping his self-control: "No," he says, "no, ah Varda, mercy," and he bites his tongue because he cannot afford to turn back now.

Thorin only smiles, a glint of eyetooth in the torchlight, and true to his promise he breathes: "Yes," and his finger presses deeper.

It burns; it feels wrong. Thranduil's vulnerable skin twitches and struggles against the intrusion, and he feels his own inner skin so strangely rough around Thorin's finger. Or is it Thorin's finger that is rough? The lines of sensation so easily blur.

Once he controls himself and merely lies, panting, feeling sweat spring up at the nape of his neck, Thranduil discovers that he can accept this much, that it is not so much-- and then, relentlessly, a second finger, Thorin's lips tight with satisfaction as his free hand grips Thranduil by hipbone and outer buttock, the mass pushing into Thranduil's body truly unthinkable. He wails. The sound is muffled by the trees, and he immediately hopes against hope that his guards are deaf to his cries, that no one has the loyalty to creep back against their orders and see him splayed and helpless here, fingers clutching uselessly into fists and knees drawing as far as the cruel bindings will allow, with Thorin's fingers twisting in his arse.

The pace is slow, slow enough that by the time two fingers have become bearable to Thranduil's body the moon has moved and a high bright star-- Vailenur, the Beech Star, Thranduil thinks uselessly-- has risen to peer through the oak-boughs above him and illuminate Thorin's hair as it falls forward. He wonders if Thorin is enjoying this very much, if the discomfort and terror is what drives his enemy's pleasure; and then, to his horror, Thorin lets go his hip and takes his cock, which has grown mostly soft, in his grasp.

Thranduil's arms jerk, reflexively moving to push Thorin's hand away; but the bindings hold tight, and Thranduil's shoulder twists and aches. The true helplessness of being bound, worse than the ticklish inevitability of touch (each time Thorin's hair brushes him, Thranduil feels it like a lash upon his skin, and flinches)-- he hopes the madness, the vulnerability, will keep his flesh in check.

And he hopes in vain, as Thorin bends further and returns to his earlier torment, licking and biting as his hand gently, slowly works Thranduil's cock and his fingers push and spread within. The sensation is delirious, unwelcome, irresistible. Thranduil rolls his head back and forth, mouthing deprecations, begging for cessation and for freedom; Thorin only groans into his skin, biting up and down his side, testing the resistance of his taxed muscle and tendon with curious teeth, and leaving marks as he goes.

Thranduil is, in the end, helpless to resist; it seems that part of this awful submission, this trade of body for mercy, is that he must suffer his own arousal and even desperation. Slowly the twist of Thorin's wrist undoes him; slowly he feels as if his arse wants more, wants to be filled, rather than to be freed. It is horrible-- it is vile-- it is liquid warmth and sick pleasure pouring into him and turning the heat under his skin into a thunderous pulse at the base of his belly.

He thinks he understands, now, how this is meant to progress. Thorin will see him reduced to begging, will stretch him further and further until he can take that great cock, until perhaps Thranduil has spilled his seed in humiliating pleasure and proven Thorin in utter control; then Thorin will fuck him, probably with brutal abandon, and pull out to mark him with seed.

Except that instead of another finger pushing at his entrance he finds himself being shifted, still grasping helplessly as though he can reach the ropes that bind him, and Thorin's fingers withdrawn, leaving cold emptiness behind. Then Thorin reaches for the vial again, and slicks his own cock with two great pumps of his fist-- oh, surely he cannot mean--

He steadies Thranduil easily despite the twitching tension in the elvenking's thighs, and seated back on his haunches he aligns his cock with Thranduil's hole, and he pushes.

It is much, much too large. Whatever pleasure Thranduil had begun to find vanishes in that awful stretch and burn. It is no mortal pain, no tearing of flesh-- but Thranduil cannot help himself trying to get away, and he bucks and kicks against the ropes and groans in terror and resistance as Thorin's cock bears him open and pushes deeper and violates him utterly.

If there is any gentleness, it is in the fact that Thorin does not immediately begin to fuck him, instead slicking their juncture with more oil; but Thranduil cannot prevent his wordless moans, though he eventually forces his limbs to lie in taut control and struggles to recover his dignity and submission.

And if there is one relief, it is that Thranduil's cock has softened again, distracted from pleasure by dread and pain.

Then Thorin's great hands close about his waist, and Thranduil goes rigid, instinctively trying to push out the enormous intrusion that penetrates him before the motion begins; but it is too late, and with a mighty roll of his hips Thorin withdraws halfway and thrusts back into him, and Thranduil writhes against and upon the massive breadth of Thorin's cock.

After this Thorin does not hold back, and his thrusts pick up speed until he is fucking Thranduil's aching, twitching hole with perfect abandon, his hips striking Thranduil's thighs like a hammer upon an anvil. In utter betrayal, Thranduil's body responds to this too, and his cock is half hard again when Thorin suddenly stops, his breath heaving, and Thranduil wonders if he has come.

But he seems to be simply gathering himself, and after a moment he sits back-- still buried to the hilt in Thranduil's arse-- and palms Thranduil's belly, smooths his hand down the long thigh. "Very tight," says Thorin, when his breath steadies. "But I suppose after a few years you'll be easier."

The other half of the agreement comes home to Thranduil, an arrow-shaft piercing his breast. Every year, he has agreed. Every year, to lie here transfixed, to be opened and ridden and defiled. Eventually, he realizes, he will come to enjoy it, he will make the long climb to the hilltop with his cock half-hard in anticipation, his guards will take his veil and pretend not to see how his body prepares itself for its violation. The shame drowns him.

And his body betrays him, accepting this new possibility with terrible equanimity, his cock swelling and stiffening quickly when Thorin strokes it. "Ah," breathes Thorin, "easier already," and when Thranduil cannot come up with a rebuttal-- he is gasping too hard, he is too close to tears-- Thorin strokes him more roughly, sending jolts of awful pleasure through his body and making the pounding pressure in his groin almost unbearable.

Then, having brought Thranduil to humiliating hardness, Thorin returns to fucking him; in long slow motions he thrusts, shifting his angle until something strange and jolting happens inside and Thranduil's mouth falls open. A pearl-like drop oozes from Thranduil's cock, unbidden; the next stroke compels another droplet, and the pleasure mounts with dismaying force, the strike of Thorin's cock like a death-knell in Thranduil's gut. He realizes that if this continues, he will spill himself over Thorin's fist in a matter of minutes, even if Thorin has ceased to stroke with his hand.

And even as he realizes this, the hand departs entirely, and with a snarl of triumph Thorin lets Thranduil's cock fall free-- swollen and dark red with desperate need, dripping with each thrust into Thranduil's arse, unforgivably far from Thranduil's bound and clutching hands. Thorin takes him by hip and thigh as if holding a tool to be used on the forge and fucks him viciously, violently, without restraint, until even the burning agony of Thranduil's abused hole is not enough to keep Thranduil's hips from bucking uselessly into the air, to hold his knees from shaking and let him breathe in more than sobbing gasps--

He is so close to coming. One touch would spill him over the edge. And Thorin seems to know it, from how carefully he holds himself, from how violently he pounds Thranduil without allowing him even a moment to find release. "Beg for it," he says, voice harsh with arousal. "Tell me you want to come."

It is too much to ask. The pain is tremendous; the pleasure is torment; the humiliation sears him to the bone. He only wants it to stop, wants Thorin to spill and withdraw and untie him and stop this horror-- he wants to accidentally come while Thorin is fucking him, and have Thorin's subjection of him be complete, and to pretend that the spikes and pulses and jolts of razor ecstasy that keep him writhing and jerking in his bonds are only a burden he is enduring, and nothing he is willing to feel for its own sake.

"I told you to beg," commands Thorin, his fingers digging into Thranduil's skin hard enough to bruise even while his hips work their punishment below.

Nothing will come from Thranduil's mouth but mewling sounds of agony, shuddering sighs that make him wish he could die of his shame, but he manages to choke out: please and don't and no, please. He hardly knows what he's begging for-- release? freedom? death?-- but he forces his lips to make the shapes of words, he gives himself over to the involuntary arching and convulsion of his own body, he struggles to push himself just a moment of friction further--

With a groan, Thorin thrusts deep into him, his hips jerking without rhythm as he spends in Thranduil's body, filling him with liquid proof of his defilement. Even in the throes of his orgasm, he spares no stroke, no touch, to Thranduil's cock; and when he falls back, heaving for breath, the swift withdrawal of his length is a strange awful feeling that is utterly drowned out by the hammer-blows of denied arousal in Thranduil's belly, the growing choked pain in his groin, the trembling and jerking of his body seeking completion of pleasure.

Thorin watches these paroxysms with hooded eyes, with languor in his expression, lying back upon the furs. Thranduil feels the slow hot seep of Thorin's spend from his open hole like the stroke of a hot tongue, and the mad conviction strikes him that if he were only face-down, it might slide along his cock and be enough-- he twists in the ropes, his abdomen spasming, unable to gain enough purchase to touch himself, let alone turn on his belly-- he thrusts wildly against the air, sobbing with need, trying to compel his painfully hard cock to strike his belly-- which it does, leaving white fluid spattered on his skin, but the strike is only painful on the hard length of his cock and, no friction to be had, he finds himself the harder and the more tormented for it.

There is no relief to be had. His hole is swollen and twitching, each flutter reminding him of the relative relief of being fucked now that he is empty and ever more desperate. His gut spasms; the feeling is almost sickening, but in the force of his arousal the cramp becomes something worse, a stab of painful pressure that sends more futile liquid dribbling from his cock, and the cramp spreads and ebbs and returns and the burn of his hole and the cramping pressure and the horrible, unbearable ache of his balls and the entire base of his belly is like being fucked mercilessly all over again, but worse.

And Thorin watches, as the sky edges itself in gold and gray; and Thorin continues to watch until the sun threatens to lip the rim of the world, while Thranduil gasps and rocks and pleads with wet lips and cannot push himself that fraction of an inch further into release, though his bound body struggles all it may.

Then he dresses himself, still watching Thranduil's excruciation, and takes himself away down the hill, brushing loose earth from the arms of his tunic; and then he is gone, and Thranduil sobs openly, begging his enemy to return and fuck him, to kill him, to touch him.

Thorin does not return; and the guards do not dare to approach the hilltop until well after dawn, when Thranduil lies aching like a beaten man in the slowly ebbing aftermath of frustration, still hard and still slicked with Thorin's spend, with tear-tracks dried upon his face and the awful premonition of years yet to come heavy on his breast.

They veil him without comment, without touching him, and Thranduil is thankful for the interim, that the weight of the veil is not friction enough to make him spend, though he knows that this means the ache will settle in his body for a very long time. The memory of Thorin will be with him, he knows, for months; he cannot imagine, on his own, achieving enough arousal to spill as he was ready to spill when Thorin was buried in him.

He shudders uncontrollably from the hilltop to the pavilion, still cramping in his belly and feeling the pounding rhythm of unsatisfied desire in his groin, and he lets himself be wrapped in blankets and put onto a couch under the tent-awning.

They bring him ointment for his abused parts, and tisanes to heal his flesh; and they bring him a present from the dwarven king, with all apologies, a heavy casket wrought of silver; then they retire to let him tend himself, so that he need not reveal his shame.

The ointment he sets aside with shaking hands, thinking of the vial of oil; the tisane he sips, but it is bitter and weak and his stomach is cramping too much to bear it. The casket he does not want to touch; but he cannot bear the curiosity, and he has been frustrated to the point of agony already today, so in the early mist-light that creeps into the tent, serenaded by the blithe territorial song of birds looking for their mates and warring over their borders, Thranduil opens the casket.

Within, swathed in silk, lies a carving, a stone shape: it is a great phallus, a false cock not quite as large as Thorin's own, rigid in its cold attention and set into a wide jeweled base. Thranduil nearly drops it.

A note flutters to the couch as Thranduil hurriedly rewraps the object and presses it back into the casket. In the same careful hand as that fateful note from a fortnight before, Thranduil reads:

To make things easier next year, you will need a great deal of practice.

By the time Thranduil's guards return, there is no sign of the casket, and their king lies upon his couch with dignity and his usual gravity of expression; and if there is a secret that haunts his gaze and draws his attention to the middle distance, none of them will dare speak of it.

He is, after all, the sacrifice; he bears the burden they could not. He will not share with them the details of his arrangement, nor the pains he will take, before next year, to ease that defilement and avert his shame.

For solitary Mirkwood, it seems, has earned back its allies; but the king of Mirkwood, save for his enemies, must be always alone.