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The Dark Fire Will Avail You

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Seven courses did Tilion make across his sky of black and silver and gloaming blue, and then Sérelókë’s prediction bore fruit as blazing Arien cast the world in a light of warming golden fire. Iaun was glad for the shelter of the trees and the new green- and gold- dappled beauty of their leaves, and for the reassuring knowledge of his companion. Still Sérelókë turned away from the new sky-vessel that hurt to look upon, and watched instead to the west, turning his noble head as a hound cocks its ears. “She seems to bring a sound of trumpets, does she not?” he said, whimsically. “A din of war-songs. Imagine how her light would glint on golden armour. I sense that the rest of the war long-delayed has now reached the eastern shores.”

Iaun only declared his wonder at this knowledge and apparent sudden fancy, but did not press him further. Sérelókë was not inclined to speak more of it for the time.

With a destination and a sense of time pressing upon them, Sérelókë and Iaun availed themselves of Certhasath’s generosity once again. As they rode through the forest, Iaun became aware of a prickling sensation - the sense of being watched, yet again. The march-wardens had a quality to their watching that was quick and challenging, yet not at all like the malice of the Enemy.

This was different still. Iaun could not place it. He turned to Sérelókë, who was clearly aware of the watching eyes also - and saw with some surprise that the Maia’s gaze kept turning not around them, but upward, into the canopy of trees.

Sure enough, high in the branches above them there came a great shaking and rustling, as of the springtime chasings of very large squirrels.

Iaun was surprised, but Sérelókë apparently was not, when, of all things, an Elven maiden swung down out of the branches and landed gracefully directly in front of them. Iaun could not help but stare, for as fair as all women of his race were, he had never seen the like of this girlish vision with the stars in her eyes and the twilight in her hair - as well as twigs and leaves. Her bare feet were white and lissome - and rather scuffed with dirt. Iaun was amazed that the dirt dared to cling to her.

Youthful she seemed, barely grown to full womanhood, yet her eyes held the knowing calm of thousands of years, and an otherworldly light shone from her face. Her dress and blue mantle were slightly ripped and grass-stained, as those of one who is at ease in the forest and likes to dance barefoot on the earth and climb the trees, the better to watch her world unfold beneath her and undisturbed by her.

The challenge in her eyes was fearless, yet not warlike. She was simply who she was, curious and self-possessed. Iaun wondered at this place, that a maid of such stunning beauty who carried no weapons he could see could wander the forest freely alone, in no danger. All the legends of Melian’s guarding power must be true then, and Iaun wondered even more that he and Sérelókë had crossed the borders of Doriath so easily.

Sérelókë was quick to greet the maiden with great courtesy, dismounting and bowing low. She extended a bramble-scratched hand, and he kissed it like a courtier. “We come in peace, my lady,” he said. “We seek the house of the Queen Melian, my kinswoman, and her consort, King Thingol of the Sindar.”

“Well, I know where to find them,” she said with merriment in her voice, after she had taken their measure for long moments, with eyes that saw well past their seemings.

“I imagine you do,” Sérelókë said with surprising warmth. “I beg you lead the way then - for I perceive you cannot be other than my kinswoman’s daughter. - if it please you, princess of this realm.”

With laughter like bells, like the music of a mountain stream, she smiled and began to run, swift as a deer, and Sérelókë swung back up on Certhasath so he and Iaun could follow after, the great horse cantering slowly as if he too liked to watch the girl kick up her heels in the tall green grass.

“Your kinswoman?” Iaun muttered softly.

“Melian is Maiar, like myself,” Sérelókë said. “All of the Ainur are kin. In a manner of speaking.”

“Hm,” Iaun said, considering this, finding it disturbing. “But you said Gothmog was . . . “

“Loosely interpreted, Iaun,” Sérelókë said, chuckling. “You need not add incest to my list of scandals, unless it please you. Otherwise, you would need stern words for the Valar as well, many of whom are espoused to one another. I suggest you not pursue that line of thought much further, for it will only bog you down in a marsh. And you are ill-equipped to find your way out again.”

Disgruntled and vaguely insulted, Iaun just nodded his head towards the royal maiden who led them towards the entrance to the City of the Thousand Caves, leaping every tuft of turf like a hare. “And she?”

Sérelókë turned his head and gave Iaun a stern glance, though his lips smiled. “I suppose I do regard her as a sister-daughter, nonetheless. Mind yourself.”

Iaun shook his head. “She is a joy to look upon, and I wish I had long years to look only. Word had reached even my little settlement of the beauty of Lúthien, and never did I think to see her with mine own eyes; that is a great privilege. But -“

And he let that hang on the air for a moment, for even in his slow-wittedness compared to his companion, he thought he might have perceived a tiny shred of what Sérelókë truly feared.

He waited for words to emerge from Sérelókë’s mouth with the lilt of a question. They did not come. Those piercing eyes, however, pinned him to the silence until Iaun could bear it no longer. “But I said this before I saw her, and now I know I spoke truth. All I want in my bed, should our hosts grant me one, is more of what I’ve already had. I would have thought you as far above my station as she, had you not already let me taste.”

Sérelókë smiled and drew Iaun close against him. “Above you I may be in some ways, Iaun, but you do me great honour by your service. Now look close and keep your wits about you, such as they are, for I perceive we are about to see wonders.”

A great causeway of stone stretched out ahead of them, narrow and high-walled, at a dizzying span above the rushing river. Certhasath hesitated at first, until the Elven maid turned around and smiled at him, calling softly - between their thighs both Sérelókë and Iaun could feel the great horse relax at her urging and begin the crossing, trusting her utterly.

“Why does she allow us to pass so easily?” Iaun asked. “I expected a far greater trial.”

“There has been a trial already, Iaun,” Sérelókë said. “She looked within me and she saw my true form. Any attempt to deceive would have turned her against me, and I am not accustomed to be so clearly seen. Yet it could be no other way - Lúthien is very much her mother’s daughter, and her mother is well aware of our coming.”

Iaun started to speak, but his questions were lost in awe as they approached the great stone gateway to the mountainside, resplendent with graceful carvings. His keen senses registered the sleepless guards - archers in the trees, spearmen at the threshold - but perceived no threat from them. A warm shiver passed over him as the gateway yawned slowly open at the lightest touch of Lúthien’s fair hand, and the vast chambers of Menegroth spread out in all directions beneath them and above them and around them.

A touch from Sérelókë warned him it was time to dismount, and Iaun let himself be lowered to the ground with no struggle, no concern for indignity. He was too awed by the alien beauty of the massive pillars and comparatively delicate stonework of the network of pathways and stairs that connected each terraced layer of the city’s levels.

“Oh,” said Sérelókë, sounding nearly as overwhelmed. “See, that design - those sharp, interwoven angles. This is what the people created by Aulë have made - I see those patterns as though they have passed straight from his hands through theirs. And yet there is also the influence of the First-born here, for these halls of stone yet remember great trees, and if the roof of the caves allows no true light through, they have still made certain to find a way to suggest starlight in their design.”

“It’s beautiful,” Iaun said.

“It is more than that,” Sérelókë said. “If one wishes to know what a people loves, one should study what they imitate. Artifice is more revealing than nature in that way.”

They were not alone - the curious eyes of a hundred Elves watched them from windows and parapets in the shimmering lamplight. The cunning craftsmen of Doriath had rigged long strings of lanterns that brought a constant golden twilight backdrop, and to Sérelókë’s eyes, there seemed to be brighter tones waxing and waning, gold and silver by slow turns - a subtle and heart-stirring reminder of the Western homeland and the two trees that now shone only in memory.

A memory none of the dwellers in this city would have, but one.

She did not have a herald to announce her presence, nor did she need one. Iaun fell to his knees instinctively, and even Sérelókë lowered his eyes from her radiance for a long moment, needing time to adjust to her.

It was hard to say if Melian was more beautiful than her daughter or not, but the light in her eyes waxed gold to Lúthien’s silver. She was slender and strong, and her dark golden mantle spread long and broad behind her, fading back into the shadows of her hallways.

Her voice when she spoke sang low and melodious, and carried effortless through her halls of stone and moss and flickering light, when she wished it so. “My kinsman Sérelókë of Valinor,” she said, and her voice was not yet warm. “Long and swift have you traveled, and yet rumour of your deeds has preceded you.”

Sérelókë bowed low, and then raised his head proudly. “I come in peace, my lady, and openly I travel. I have no secret designs.”

“It is well you did not intend such,” Melian said. “For you would not keep secrets from me long, and I would not give you such warm welcome had you tried. But come - who is your companion? He shows more humility than is warranted - a fair counterpoint to you, Sérelókë, who ever shows less.”

Iaun lifted up his head, and to his relief Sérelókë perceived mild mirth upon his face - and also upon Melian’s. “My lady, I am Iaun Hossiôn of the woodlands. I had never thought to look upon the faces of any of the Maiar, and now I am in the company of two - and of the lady Lúthien, who has beauty indistinguishable. How shall I behave in the face of such riches, but to bow my head and rest my exhausted eyes?”

“Oh, a smooth tongue you have,” Melian said, as her face opened in a warmer smile.. “And I see you have captivated one of the Ainur already. There is much more to you than is apparent at first glance. Welcome, Iaun of the woodlands, and let not your heart be troubled. Bide your time if you will, while I speak for a little with your companion, for long has it been since I have seen one from my homeland.”

“Mother, if I may,” said Lúthien, emerging suddenly from the shadows in a cool swirl of exquisite scent. “I shall summon my ladies and have a meal prepared, for he must be hungry even if Lord Sérelókë is not.”

“If it please thee, daughter,” said Melian as she stepped forward tall and proud to take Sérelókë’s arm in a courtly - but stern and imperious - fashion.

If it concerned either Maia to leave a stunned and enraptured Iaun in the company of several entrancingly beautiful Elven maids, they showed it not upon their faces. But Sérelókë did cast one lingering gaze over his shoulder, and much passed unspoken between him and Iaun in that moment.

 

***

Far from the watching eyes of the court Melian and Sérelókë strolled, on a narrow catwalk carved within the great central plaza of the city and high above all but its topmost layers. But for the massive tree roots that spiralled and swirled as huge as columns, and had chambers and apartments carved in their largest boles with windows that gleamed and lanterns that glittered, Menegroth would have seemed more a Dwarven city than an Elven one.

Still, they kept their manners about them, for the habit was easier to maintain than to let drop and take up again. Equal in rank in Valinor, here they were not. Yet to them this was no more than another change of forms, and far simpler and less costly than most.

“It can be no coincidence that you appear at the very moment of such great tumult,” Melian said. When she smiled like that, the gold light of lanterns shivered. “Vairë’s hand is not so lazy, and I have read portents in your flight, stormcrow. You come knowing more than you tell - and perhaps seeing more than you know.”

“Keenness of sight has ever been my gift,” said Sérelókë. “And my quest - to grow my wisdom and to understand all that I see.”

“Gifts can turn to curses quickly, brother mine,” said Melian, not unkindly. “Particularly for one who has never been content with his lot. I have learned patience here, and appreciation of the small changes of the land - and now I do not take well to change that comes great and sudden. I would not see your own skill warped to your own suffering. Nor to the suffering of any that we hold dear.”

Sérelókë looked away, for his expression would displease her, and she tightened her grip on his forearm.

“It is not that I mistrust you,” she said. “You swim in deep waters, and cannot always foresee what you will find - or how it will change you.”

“As did Ossë,” Sérelókë said with rueful smile. “And yet he found his way back, did he not?”

“At great cost,” said Melian. “And many are they who will not return, and we shall rue their loss before the world is remade.”

“I am not like Mairon,” Sérelókë said, and he held her fathomless gaze that was deep green as the gloaming amid the pines.

“Mairon himself was not always like Mairon,” Melian reminded him. “But that is true, you are not. Still, though we are ancient, this world is young and it works upon us in ways we cannot always foresee. Have you not begun to feel it already?”

“Do you mean the way that we find ourselves slower and more difficult to change form?” Sérelókë asked with some eagerness, for he had noticed this and found it fascinating. “That one comes to feel more rooted in a form that suits this land?”

“Indeed, that is part of it,” Melian said. “Long have I been here, and much of myself have I given and woven into the warp and woof of all you see before us. This is my realm, and as it grows, it binds me. I am not now certain that I could leave it for any time, or return to the West at will - if I tried, I am sure it would cause my spirit such trial I could not bear separation for long.”

“With all due respect, my royal sister, that may also be because you have married. Of all the things to which you have lent your essence, surely the greatest part of that resides in your daughter.”

“Yes, you see that clearly, and I cannot truly tell what would become of me should I leave them, for I will never willingly do so. I will tell you this, Sérelókë, brother mine - you and your companion are welcome within my domain as long as you do nothing that will bring danger upon this place. Should I ever have cause to regret those words, I shall not hesitate to banish you.”

“Understood, my lady, and I thank you,” Sérelókë with a little bow. Already he was thinking that soon his drive to know must resent its confinement in safety - yet a period of respite and research would suit him well, and he did not forget that Iaun was in need of a deeper healing than he yet understood.

“And you will find me not ungenerous,” said Melian, and now her smile was fond and tinged with mischief. “I am not fooled by the glamour that deflects the eye from mated pairs that are of other than the expected nature. Yet tongues shall wag enough with your arrival and the rumours it brings. I shall allow the tale that you require two bedchambers, and I am sure you will find some use for the one that you and your Silvan consort do not occupy. Yet if you are still wont to play with noxious fumes, as I remember, I do request you contain those to a hall with a window facing Angband.”

Sérelókë laughed - he had not expected his kinswoman to trust him, only to give him a chance, and he found relief in her wit. “Many leagues lie between here and there, Melian. I know for I have recently crossed them. I would have little to contribute to that awe-inspiring stench.”

“Many leagues indeed, and yet I wish for many more,” Melian said. “That distance seems short enough in the bright light of our new sun, and shorter still when our new moon wanders. Still, we grow accustomed to the new brightness, and it is a bane to our enemies, so I shall make peace in my heart with whatever it brings. Be welcome and forgive me, for you must understand I have too much to lose to relax my guard.”

“I understand it well, and I have cause to praise your vigilance,” Sérelókë said.

“My vigilance has grown much sharper since I came to this land,” said Melian. “And I have not been tamed by love, as I have heard is said of me. It has made me more fierce, though I need not always show it. Perhaps you will understand that ere long.”

“I believe I do understand how that could work upon you,” Sérelókë said.

“That is a shallow understanding,” said Melian. “In time you may come to understand it deeply.”

Sérelókë nodded and looked away, for he did not wish to follow this thread of her thought any further. “You do not seek your husband’s counsel on the matter of whether to admit two guests, I observe.”

“Would you have preferred to seek a formal audience in his great hall, Sérelókë?” Melian asked with a sly little smile. “You have never yet mastered the art of the petitioner.”

“It is true, there are many arts that delight me more.”

“Yes, I have heard tell of such arts of yours,” Melian said, and her voice had gone thick with suppressed laughter.

Indignant, and perhaps a bit abashed, he turned again to read her gaze, but she held up her hand. “It is your music I speak of, Sérelókë.” Her dancing eyes suggested otherwise. “If you left your viol behind when you crossed the sea, worry not, the art of instrument-making has grown great in these lands and I would have you try your skill upon them, in my hall, if you are amenable.”

“I would be delighted. Sister mine,” Sérelókë said. And relieved, he thought.

***

Iaun had long heard tales of the great city carved beneath the forested hills of Doriath, and in truth, he had found it difficult to imagine such a place being as vast as the legends claimed. In his mind’s eye he had seen only a simple dark grotto or cave, no matter how he tried to conjure grandeur in his mind.

Now Iaun felt regret for the poverty of his imagination, for Menegroth was anything but dark and close and dreary - it was an expansive realm of space and subtle light, an intricate and seemingly endless series of walkways and halls, woven around great pillars of stone that seemed to sway and grow like giant trees. The best of both Elven and Dwarven craftsmanship had been brought to bear to produce this crown of invention, of the labours of vast numbers. Exquisite stone and metal work wrought the illusion of living forest and mountains, with glimmering star-like lights and the singing water music of fountains that dripped and flowed from level to level and fed lush green mosses that painted and padded the city’s pillars and paving stones. And within this illusion, the birds that fluttered and trilled in the carven branches were real.

Thus it was that the children of stars and forest did not feel lost or sundered from their nature in such a place, though they had come from many lands under the sky to dwell here in Thingol and Melian’s realm, under their protection and hidden from the evil things that walked the lands outside.

Even Lúthien herself, or the lady’s maids who walked with her, did not look upon him with the pity or contempt he’d feared - for Iaun was but one Wood-Elf among many, and they were the bulk of this great city’s people. And the chambers he was escorted to took his breath away - he would have been happy with a simple cell with only a bed and wash-basin and a place to work. What he received was a series of interlocking, vaulted rooms, fitted with fine tables and chairs. The Elven women took obvious pleasure in his surprise and delight as they lead him through the chambers, pointing out the two rooms taken up with enormous canopied beds and the little hallway that led to a room where water pooled in a natural warm spring. One of the women unrolled a little scroll and handed to him, pointing out where in the map the nearest kitchen could be found.

There were other locations of interest marked there as well - the armouries, and the huge levels where all the craftsmen worked to render further beauties, for the building on the city was an ongoing labour. Tailors and leather workers seemed of special interest, for the women were quick to point out that Iaun might be in want of fresh clothes. “You’re comely already and will be far more so when you dress well,” said one with fair hair. Iaun flushed from his forehead to his chest.

“Watch your fresh tongue,” jested one of her friends, “lest his companion turn you into a Balrog of very weak flame.”

Iaun started to splutter an objection, though he was not sure where to start precisely. The women seemed to evaporate out the door in a swirl of gowns and soft laughter, and wherever they had been, Iaun found treasures. A small feast and large jug of wine on a sideboard. A stack of folded clothes far too rich for his station on an opulent bed.

The sensation that traveled through and over him at the sight and scent of these things, the textures of fine fabric and leather, was breathtaking, a warm elation even as he was mortified to accept such extravagant gifts. The thrill - and in truth, the slight shame - was that he knew for whose sake it was that his welcome had been so generous. And indeed, by the standards of this place, it was not extravagant at all, merely the minimum of a pleasant life here lived in dignity.

With some conflict between eagerness and reluctance, Iaun unfolded a deep green robe of a soft, warm material that seemed to caress his fingers, imagining how it would feel on his skin. He started to shed his travel-worn clothes with relief and regret, deciding what could be cleaned and salvaged and what his new hosts might deem not worth it. He gave himself a quick swab from the washbasin as he changed, trying not to think too hard just yet of the bath and the bed and Sérelókë’s return. The food beckoned, and so did thoughts of what his companion might do to his willing self - though he knew Sérelókë was probably discussing matters of great import to vast realms with his fellow Maia, Iaun was here thinking only of the region between his own chest and knees.

A grumble of his stomach drove the matter home, and he allowed himself a piece of that fair, still-warm bread, dragged through butter and honey. It was light but filling, suffusing his mouth with a rush of subtle flavours. It calmed the pangs of his belly but awakened his tongue to other pleasures lying in wait beneath the domed silver plates.

If he could be sure he wouldn’t have long to wait, he thought, he might like to greet Sérelókë on his knees, presenting a cup of wine. Surely that would earn a generous reward of punishment. Yet Sérelókë had suggested he liked a firm line drawn between when he was friend and equal and when he was lord and master, and Iaun thought perhaps he should think of another way to make it clear just how much he wanted to be thrown onto that bed and ravished.

The robe, perhaps? It was clearly meant to be worn over the light grey breeches of a more delicate material folded with them, but Iaun decided to forgo those for now, enjoying a share of the breeze and freedom of nakedness, especially as he left the top clasps open. He lifted the stopper of the jug of wine and sniffed, feeling the scent of it infuse him with anticipation before he even took a taste. Carefully he poured a generous dram into one of the silver cups, admiring its workmanship as he did so.

Iaun felt slightly ridiculous. Costumed, even, comfortable as he was. He heard Sérelókë’s mocking words ringing in his mind: “Is it your wish that I should dress you in finery and keep you as my catamite? Do you imagine we have such luxuries in Valinor?” Iaun had not imagined that about Valinor, true - and yet now he did like the fact that it might be so in Menegroth, for at least a short while. He did indeed find himself hoping that Sérelókë might enjoy that thought as well.

For a time. Iaun had never experienced the lassitude of luxurious bondage, and he was not sure which of the pair of them would weary of it sooner.

Iaun found there was no use in planning his greeting anyway, for he jumped to attention and stood straight up as the door opened, and Sérelókë strode in and looked at the stocked sideboard with with a wry little smile. “Oh, you mustn’t deny yourself on my account, Iaun. Did I say you had to wait for me? Of course not.”

“Well, in that case,” Iaun said, all but lunging at the table.

“On the other hand,” Sérelókë said, stepping quickly in between Iaun and his inert prey. “I should warn you that we have been invited to dine at King Thingol’s table at the waxing of the silver lanterns. It is for you to decide if you wish to risk ruining your . . . appetites.” He spoke this last with a sharp-toothed leer.

“Oh, Sérelókë,” Iaun said. “I shall regret it dearly if I ever give you cause to underestimate my appetites.”

“And you would be most unwise to underestimate mine,” said Sérelókë, stalking closer. “That robe is very pleasing upon you. But it would please me more to see you upon it, bare to my gaze and my touch.”

“Have we time before you must tame yourself before royalty?” Iaun asked, allowing himself a small challenging grin.

“I require a little time to be wholly untamed,” Sérelókë said. “I take it you are agreeable.”

“That is no question, my lord,” said Iaun.

Sérelókë’s hand shot out like a striking serpent to clasp Iaun’s neck and drag him in for a stinging kiss.

Iaun’s whole body sang with the call to yield and go soft as warm desire trickled down his back and bloomed in his thighs, making him nearly fall to the floor. Yet Sérelókë’s touch also teased him awake and alert with its sharp stings, that quick hand stealing into his open robe and stinging his nipples with biting fingernails, those sharp teeth hidden deceptively behind plush lips plucking and pinching at his lips and his cheek and his ear and his throat.

He put up no resistance as Sérelókë backed him up towards the bed, and he made no fight to stand as Sérelókë shoved him down. In desperate anticipation Iaun waited for Sérelókë to fall upon him and use him roughly - and yet he was kept waiting. Sérelókë looked regal as he stood there, slowly shedding cloak and tunic, at last bare-chested and wearing only his boots and thin breeches that clung so enticingly to the long bulge stretching them.

I am caught in his enchantment with no way out and no desire to find one, Iaun thought. This must be not unlike the way Thingol fell into Melian’s grasp. And it is no wonder he never wished it otherwise or put up any struggle. Still, Iaun could not help but wonder why Sérelókë now paid more attention to the offerings of food and drink than he had before. He watched, as the Maia bypassed the jug of wine and took up a smaller, more exquisite bottle and lifted the stopper and sniffed, his striking face transformed by a brief swoon of pleasure that aroused Iaun’s jealousy.

Sérelókë studied him then, taking in his look of puzzlement. “Oh, of course, Iaun,” he said finally. “You have never had this treasure. Lie still, and I shall give you a great reward you’ve yet to earn. Lie very still.”

Iaun did, though it was difficult as Sérelókë crept towards him, slipping one long finger suggestively through the narrow mouth of the little bottle, in and out. He pulled it out, slick and wet, as he rested his weight on one knee on the bed by Iaun’s side. “Open your mouth,” he commanded softly, pressing his finger through Iaun’s lips. “Lick,” he whispered. “Suck.”

Iaun did, and marvelled at the golden glory that trickled across his tongue and went straight to his head with a bolstering, dizzying warmth. He savoured the taste of it, and sucked Sérelókë’s finger as he longed to suck elsewhere, making a helpless sound of loss and delight as his master withdrew from his mouth and then came back with more. “What is that?” he managed to gasp after the third taste.

Sérelókë lifted the bottle to his own mouth and took a little sip - and then he bent down to seal his lips to Iaun’s and give him the thickest flood of it yet, a shared drink that went on and on until Iaun felt close to drowning in golden light, and his whole body sang out for caresses.

“Miruvórë,” said Sérelókë. “The genuine sort, from Valinor. The nectar of Yavanna’s flowers and the honey of her bees, the elixir of the feasts of the Ainur. If Lúthien gave you this, Iaun, it can only be because you are welcomed as kin.”

“Are you sure it was meant for me and not you, my lord?” Iaun asked.

“It was meant for you because of me,” said Sérelókë quietly. “Did Lúthien not let you know in some way that she saw us for what we are?”

Iaun closed his eyes - the golden liquor had made him muzzy, dreamy, too ready to believe in impossibilities. “She said - they said. Well. They know, or they guessed.”

Sérelókë shook his head. “Melian and her daughter do not guess. You are kin to them because you are mine, and they see that clearly. But if my own sight does not fail me, they will love me less than you before the end.”

“I do not flatter myself I can see so far as you, my lord,” said Iaun, for his hands were nearly rising of their own will, so great was their desire to touch Sérelókë, to tangle in his hair, to return his mouth to Iaun’s own. For all that it sometimes troubled his mind that Sérelókë was so quick to call him “mine,” the sound yet sang in his heart and heated his blood.

How could it be, that he could find himself claimed so utterly and so quickly, the bond between them forged so fast and yet visible to so many? For certainly Melian and Lúthien had clearer sight than most, but was it there for all to see, that he and Sérelókë were bound to one another?

Something began to move in Iaun’s spirit then, a thrill of an entwined hope and fear, knotting in his chest and falling through his belly - dissolving in desire, as for once, the ways of fate felt warm to him, letting him fall softly through layers of longing. For if such as they believed that Iaun had found his place, who was he to gainsay them?

Obediently he lay still, waiting for Sérelókë to take pity on his patience.

He knew that if it was Sérelókë’s will to deny him, that wait could be long indeed, but for the invitation from the King that even Sérelókë could not disdain, not if he wished to remain in Melian’s graces. So there was a limit to the stretch of Iaun’s yearning, and indeed it was not long before Sérelókë reached down and unfastened the last clasps of Iaun’s robe at his belly and drew the rich cloth aside, laying him bare to a penetrating gaze. Iaun accepted it over every inch of him, growing erect under Sérelókë’s close regard, willing himself with great effort into stillness - fighting the urge to writhe, to spread his legs and open his arms in supplicating invitation.

Well aware Iaun was that Sérelókë could sense his struggle, and that lush but cruel mouth smiled to see it.

“Am I too cruel to you?” he asked, expecting no answer and receiving none. “You are hungry, after all, and I cannot have you come starving to the king’s table. I will not have it said of me that I take poor care of what is mine.” He watched Iaun’s eyes move as Sérelókë’s long hands slowly loosened the laces of his own breeches. Serelókë did not miss a single movement of Iaun’s face as he drew out his staff of flesh, thick and long and ready, displaying it in his hand. Quickly he swung a long leg over and straddled Iaun, giving him a good close look, but still too far away for Iaun to do as he desired most.

Iaun felt his mouth watering, and then his own eyes widening as Sérelókë took up the crystal bottle of miruvórë and poured a small stream into his hand - and proceeded to anoint his own member with it, dripping golden drops upon Iaun’s chest. Sérelókë closed his eyes for a moment in sensation. “It burns a bit, Iaun - but not a hard burn, merely as though I had moved close to a warming fire. I can feel it move through my skin and soon it shall seep lightly into my mind.”

“What little taste of it I have had - I do assure you, my lord, I’m ready for more,” said Iaun, licking his lips as if it were the only motion he were allowed, which indeed it was.

“I know I have kept you long from this wish of yours,” said Sérelókë with a smile as he rose up on his knees, canting his hips forward until the head of his member drew close enough to meet the tip of Iaun’s tongue. Iaun stretched forward and savoured the honeyed salt at the head, closing his eyes in utter bliss. Sérelókë’s hands balanced his weight on the pillow by Iaun’s head, trapping his hair a little painfully, and Iaun gave a groan of relieved satisfaction as the long column of Sérelókë’s arousal sank slowly into his mouth, steeped in the sweet and heady tang of miruvórë.

Long moments stretched out into the sliding rhythm as Iaun relaxed into his delight, daring to tighten his mouth to suck and move his tongue to caress, licking the sweet, strong spirit of Valinor from every vein and crease, drawing in cool rushes of air through his nose and savouring Sérelókë’s appreciative sounds. Miruvórë was warming and calming and so was Iaun’s own satisfaction in being used, in being pleasing, in watching the changes of his master’s face as Sérelókë came slowly undone. With every gasp and groan of praise, with every deep thrust pinning his head to the pillow, Iaun felt his spirit soar.

Small and cherished was his world and his vision, the strain and flex of Sérelókë’s lovely hips and thighs, the gasp of his breath and the soft wet lapping sounds, the fragrant tuft of dark hair that sometimes brushed Iaun’s lips. Sérelókë’s hands tugged at Iaun’s hair - one hand holding him down, the other sometimes cupped around Iaun’s head or stroking over his cheeks and ears, reading him by touch, trailing through the wetness that leaked from his mouth. “My Iaun, you take it so well,” said Sérelókë, his voice a husky growl. “Do you wish to drink from me? To take all I have been saving to give you?” he asked, then chuckled as he realised that Iaun could not answer but for a nod of his head, lips tugging eagerly on Sérelókë’s soft skin.

As skilled as he had been at holding still, Iaun could not help but writhe and arch his back just a little as Sérelókë used him and at last drew back a little, his cock only half in Iaun’s mouth as he went rigid for a long hanging moment, his head thrown back to let Iaun gaze up the long bowed line of his chest and long neck. Iaun made a high whine of delight at the elixir that flooded his mouth and throat, thicker and more bitter than miruvórë, but as long desired.

Breathless and wild-eyed, Sérelókë gazed down upon him, his shining silver eyes watching Iaun swallow. Iaun closed his eyes for a moment and and looked up again, still letting his lips lightly suck as Sérelókë withdrew, leaving a wet trail down his chin. “You spoil me, my lord,” Iaun said, amazed at himself that he could still draw sound from his hard-used throat, much less clever words from his mind. “Treating me to all of the finest ambrosias of Valinor.”

“Well-spoken, my Iaun,” Sérelókë said, cradling the side of Iaun’s face in one of his large hands, slightly sweaty and trembling. “No doubt you think highly of your skills now.” He gave Iaun’s jaw a small warning squeeze.

Iaun held his tongue, but he was sure the smile in his eyes must convey his pride.

“As you should,” Sérelókë conceded. “But now I shall test your capacity for stillness and silence.”

Iaun already nearly shamed himself as Sérelókë braced hands on the bed and Iaun’s chest and vaulted himself downward, pausing only to take licking bites of Iaun’s nipples before he dived straight down Iaun’s quivering belly.

“I want you to hold out for as long as you can,” Sérelókë said, peering out from under his dark hair with Iaun’s cock bobbing anxiously at his chin. “I shall punish you if it’s not long enough to please me.”

Iaun bit his lip as he heard Sérelókë take a deep breath, felt that large dextrous hand grasp his member for a moment before it was engulfed in slick, clinging heat.

Bravely did Iaun hold out against Sérelókë’s sensual assault for as many of those wet throbbing pulls as he could. One glance down to watch Sérelókë work, the head of Iaun’s staff swelling those fair hollowed cheeks, those full, generous lips stretched tightly around his girth, that rich thick hair falling and bouncing with each movement of the Maia’s graceful head - oh, that nearly did for him much too soon, and he was forced to close his eyes and recall the stinking marsh full of rotting Orc bodies to bring himself back from the edge of pleasure’s cliff. He was nearly lost again when Sérelókë’s hands gripped his thighs and pulled them further apart, granting room to nudge at his full heavy stones with nose and mouth and fingers. Sérelókë gave a smug laugh through his mouthful as though he could read each beat of Iaun’s struggle.

As always under Sérelókë’s command, he was quickly learning, Iaun felt sublimely helpless, thoroughly plundered, and a wild surging power surrounding and lifting him. He breathed deep, panting, letting all the rest of his body go limp but for the part of him where all his mind was centered now in the caressing stretch and squeeze of Sérelókë’s mouth. He had been so close to the brink again and again, and now found a new calm within him, to surrender to waves of warm darkness and simply relax, a second wind until a new peak of pleasure was upon him.

It came with Sérelókë’s hands mounting a tender attack between his thighs, his balls lightly tugged and the hidden space behind and beneath them rubbed hard with a vibrating pressure.

Yet Iaun had not spent as he expected - for all the power of these beats of delicious agony swelling within him, they gave forth no issue - nothing for his master to drink, and no sensation of relaxation, no blissful relief. Yet Sérelókë’s labours never paused nor stalled. Iaun wondered now if he were in the grip of some cruel enchantment, for the delaying of his climax was now far beyond his own will. He was ashamed to have lost his resolve so quickly that he chased it rather than fighting for it, felt the punishment of its lack, and was nearly frightened at what possible force could be keeping him for so long in the very moment of falling out of resistance into complete surrender.

Long did Iaun hang in such sweet torment, striving and yet never fully arriving - until he felt Sérelókë’s lips tighten again around his shaft in a tensing of soft, cruel laughter. For through his watering eyes, Iaun perceived a silvering of the city’s lamps, and his trembling ears received a deep faraway chime of great silversteel bells. He nearly wept as Sérelókë pulled away, still hovering close enough to torment Iaun’s desperate flesh with his breath.

“The call to the feast begins, Iaun,” said Sérelókë in a low voice roughened by the long exertions of his mouth. “Your will is strong. I fear I cannot break it before Elwë Thingol’s supper, and we must not be late. We must wait til after to bring you to relief.”

Iaun practised his sullen resentment even as he lay there quivering in frustration, for he suspected that he had been treated unfairly in some respect. Sérelókë soothed him with kisses to thighs and belly before springing up lightly from the bed and wiping himself down with the scented water from the washbin. Swiftly did he dress, and Iaun cursed his ability to make himself so well-groomed so quickly.

“Do not despair, Iaun,” Sérelókë said with a crooked smile. “I shall be in nearly as desperate a state as you if I think too long upon the sounds you will make when you can be released at last. Fortunately we shall be distracted by learning the ways of this place. This shall not be the last time we must subdue our lust for the sake of diplomacy.”

“I do understand that,” Iaun said, sitting up and willing his risen spear to settle, attempting to ply it with cool water. Placidly he stood, shivering but a little as Sérelókë chose clothes for him from the folded offerings, straightening lines of unfamiliar rich fabrics at his hips and shoulders, fastening exquisite metalwork clasps at his chest and throat. “I am not quite as wild as you think.”

“Are you not?” Sérelókë said with an arch of his brow. “This you have earned,” he said with a warmth in his voice, handing Iaun a delicate cup of miruvórë.

Iaun stared at it, swirled the liquid about in the cup as his body settled and his mind emerged from its haze.

Thingol it was who awaited them. Thingol who had come in time to avenge Denethor son of Lenwë, but not to save him; and would doubtless recognise that Iaun was of the Laiquendi, who took no king ever after. Strange it would seem to Iaun to bend his knee to one now. What desire he had to give fealty was now fulfilled by another, and Iaun found he still preferred the shelter of the forest to the cover of a crown.

Iaun sprang fully from the bed as his arousal changed to anxiety. He squared his shoulders and devoted himself to preparing his clothing as Sérelókë watched.

Something changed in the Maia’s gaze. With the lightest of touches, trying his best to make his work subtle, Sérelókë helped Iaun dress, bending his will to clean cloth he had only just enjoyed staining. Iaun glanced at him, full of questions, but at the last decided to ask nothing.

He relished Sérelókë’s incidental caresses with every adjustment and straightening, every tightening and lacing, and at last, time devoted to combing and rebraiding of Iaun’s long hair. “You want me at my fairest for the king’s table, my lord?” he finally managed to ask, his hand shaking slightly.

Sérelókë’s brow crinkled in puzzlement for a moment. “Your shoulders tensed and your hand began to shake when you thought of meeting Thingol,” he said. “You did not react that way to Melian or Lúthien. There is some fear or anger there, born out of the past, although you have never met face to face, I perceive. You do not want to be at a disadvantage in your appearance, so it is my pleasure to help.”

“Because I am yours?” Iaun asked.

“Yes,” Sérelókë said, “and also because you are you.”