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Nightingale

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She laid her hand in his hand and they sat together. Centuries could have passed, or seconds, hours, minutes, days. Beren stirred beside her; his stomach growled. He looked embarrassed but Lúthien only laughed, low in her throat. How foolish she had been, to suppose her love would be anything like that of her parents! Countless years of enchantment under the starlight was not to be her lot.

Time would pass quickly for her, and she would have to learn to care for mortal matters, such as hunger and thirst -- and as Beren’s head drooped against hers -- fatigue.

Whispering, she said, “Will you not eat something?”

He lifted his head and whispered back, “I do not think I could. I look at you and all my hunger fades.”

Tentatively, Lúthien touched his cheek, feeling the wild tangle of hair and grime that made up his beard and hair. She said, “You only think it does. Your body feels differently.”

“I have not thought of my -- body for a long time,” Beren said, pulling away from her. And for some odd reason, he blushed.

Oh dear, Lúthien thought with a spark of foreboding, he is very endearing even when he is being stupid.

 

*

 

Eventually, she convinced him to eat a little of the bread she brought for him, and that was enough for him to lie on the ground for a while, his eyes wide as his stomach filled up. “It is wonderful,” he said. Lúthien handed him a wineskin, which he drank from quickly, before pulling it down and wiping the dark stain from his lips. “What is this?”

“It is wine stored in a cache near here. The march-wardens replenish it at times, it is free for all.”

“It is the best wine I have ever tasted,” Beren said.

Lúthien looked down upon him, some her hair spilling across her face. She pushed it away, impatiently, and said, “I would not have thought that Men were so odd.”

 

He held up the wine skin for her, and she took it from him and sipped from it. Eventually, she lay down beside him and looked up, her head almost swimming.

“I don’t know what is happening,” she said.

“The stars are dancing,” Beren said sleepily.

And so they were.

*

Holding his hand still, Lúthien led Beren to a pool where he could bathe and handed him a bit of soap to wash himself with. He had insisted on taking a bath, saying that he could no longer live this way.

She looked down at his ragged clothes and up to his tangled hair that mingled into his beard. “I think you look wonderful,” she said, sincerely. Any ancient Elf would be proud to have such beard!

Beren laughed in disbelief, and wadded into the water. “Cold, cold!” he said, almost hooting, stripping off the sad remnants of his cloak and tunic, and bending down to relieve himself of his hose. For a moment, he paused and turned around, apparently not expecting Lúthien to be there. But of course she was. She folded her hands over her chest.

“I do not want to offend you,” he said at last, shivering a little.

“I am not offended,” Lúthien said calmly. Later, when he came shivering out of the pool, she helped dry him off, using her mantle -- over his protests -- and offered him the clothing that she had spirited away from a washing line, leaving enough coins behind to ease its passing. She had gotten his measurements almost right -- the shoulders were too narrow, even on his thin frame. Her hands brushed against his stomach, reaching almost to the top of his thighs. When she looked up again, she saw that Beren’s face was pink.

“I don’t suppose you have a knife with you?” he asked her, his voice slightly husky.

Lúthien arched an eyebrow. “Not even in Doriath under my mother’s guard is danger so foreign that I would lack such thing.” She pulled out her knife, a lovely thing that was sharper than an unkind thought and tested it against her index finger. “Let me do it for you.”

Beren coughed, “Have you ever… No, I could not impose.”

“It cannot be so difficult,” Lúthien said reasonably, “And I have a very gentle hand. Come, sit.”

They sat on the grass, which was already soft and deep, and gave off a green scent when crushed. Face to face, eye to eye. Beren murmured, “You will need water. And I do not know where the soap has gotten to.”

“I have some more,” Lúthien said, and got up gracefully and got both. The water she splashed against his face -- he gasped and looked aggrieved, and she was abashed.

“I’m sorry --”

“Please don’t --”

“We can do it together --”

All right!

They both fell silent at his outburst. In the end, Beren shaved himself, making quick work of it. His people, he explained, had traditionally set great store by their beards. The worthiness of a man was measured, in part, by the splendor of his beard.

But once they had met and fallen in love with Nóm, it was natural enough to emulate him in all ways they could. Including beardlessness.

“Felagund is a cousin of mine and I love him well,” Lúthien said, touching a bit cheek where her knife had missed. “Have you met him?”

“No,” Beren said. “My father said that one day I would, but --”

He had finished and looked to her for a final inspection. He did not look like an Elf in the least, although he had all the features that an Elf would have. But among the eyes and mouth, the nose and brows, there was some inexpressible difference.

One difference, however, was clear. Mortality carried with it a different scent. It was not unpleasant, nor, was it unfamiliar to her. It was like the scent of the woods, of growing things and dying things. Sweet, sour, intangible except that it was not. She leaned in close, to breathe him in more deeply.

Beren leaned in as well, his mouth opening a little. He seemed surprised when she sniffed his neck.

“Am I -- is this something that your people do --? I must confess, the Nóm’s people … did not.”

“I want to know everything about you,” Lúthien said, reasonably, she thought. “You may smell me as well.”

Beren looked tempted for a moment, but finally declined. Instead he asked, “May I kiss you?”

Lúthien did not answer. Instead, she put her hand around his waist and pressed her lips firmly against his. He fairly melted into her arms, and she realized that he was shaking.

 

*

 

It was morning and spring had begun in earnest, and Anor’s rays had burned off the last of the rainclouds overhead. Lúthien was whistling under her breath, her arms heavy with a basketful of things for Beren when she almost trod on Nellas, who was lying face-up on the ground, looking up at the canopy of trees.

“Nellas!” Lúthien said in alarm, nearly dropping her basket. She knelt down to examine her friend. “Have I hurt you?”

“No,” Nellas said and lay still.

Dressed as she was in light green, her light-brown hair cropped close to her face, Nellas seemed like the very embodiment of spring. Lúthien picked up a dried apple and gave it to her. Nellas accepted it with a silent thanks.

 

Lúthien could remember Nellas from her earliest youth, always at the edges of things, cautious even with her. But Nellas could be trusted, after a fashion. She was not one to ask questions or speak … to anyone, actually, save the Melian the Queen, and not even Lúthien could fool herself into thinking that her mother knew nothing of Beren’s presence in the woods.

“What does my mother say?” Lúthien asked her, but Nellas only shrugged.

But when she got up again and was a few paces down the path, Nellas spoke and Lúthien turned to look at her.

“She bids you take care and bring a blanket with you in your wanderings. She says that there is still a chill in the air, though spring is here.”

Lúthien smiled. “Thank her for me. I shall not forget.”

 

*

 

There was an extra blanket lying on a fallen tree trunk, near to the cave where Beren had made his temporary home. He said nothing about it, and neither did she, though she brought it in and spread on the floor. There was evidence of animals being here, even after Beren begun sleeping there. Even as Lúthien turned, a rabbit leapt out from somewhere. “You are very popular about beasts,” she said, a little startled.

“I have sworn never to trap or harm any bird or beast, save for those who serve Morgoth,” Beren said seriously, settling down beside her. The weather had changed again, and great big drops of rain fell down onto the forest floor.

“What did you survive on, when you were on your own?”

“Oh, what nature could provide me -- nuts, seeds, plants in the summer and spring. It was difficult. Often I did not eat.”

“Oh,” Lúthien said. That explained, after all, why the packet of dried meat she had left behind the other day was still there. Suddenly restless, she shifted in her seat. “Would you like to go for a walk?”

“In the rain?” he asked, doubtfully.

She gave him a brief, side-ways glance. “Surely you, who have Orcs flee from your face, are not afraid of a little rain?”

“I am not worried about me,” Beren protested.

Lúthien rose and wrapped her mantle around her. “I am not so fragile that I will melt in the rain, Beren.”

“No,” Beren agreed. “I am the fragile one here.”

Lúthien hummed in half-agreement, thinking all the while that this was a lesson that Beren would soon forget.

They tramped outside into a kingdom of rain, misty and grey, ever-shifting. The ground was littered by crushed flower petals and tender young leaves. The rain seemed to lighten on the path where Lúthien passed, with Beren following behind her. They wandered long in silence, often pausing to observe one wonder of nature or another. There was a tree that had stood a thousand years. Here, a flower that had bloomed the day before.

In the evening, the rain began to changing into mist, threading in between the trees. The moon came out, large and white, almost full. Somewhere, far away, a nightingale began to sing. Come home, it sang to her. Lúthien smiled to herself and shook her head.

Instead, she whistled, until a rather disgruntled-looking sparrow alighted on a branch over Beren’s head and ruffled her feathers, trying shake the water out. Eventually, she agreed to take Lúthien’s message, and away she flew.

*

A fire would attract too much attention, they agreed, coming back to Beren’s camp. Instead, they huddled in the blanket, which was barely big enough for one person, let alone two. It was because of the crowded conditions, probably, that Lúthien did what she did -- namely move a little forward and kiss Beren. His cheek felt scratchy against her lips, it was -- a pleasant feeling. Even more so when he sighed and looked at her, his eyes almost pleading.

“I want you to,” Lúthien said quietly, without a bit of remorse. “And I want to.”

After a long moment, Beren nodded.

Love had always been a mystery to Lúthien, one that she was never keen on solving. She had always supposed that she would become a person like Beleg, solitary and extraordinary. Needing no one, wishing for no one. It satisfied. But everything had changed with Beren’s coming. Her thoughts entwined with his. I became we. And she felt no sense of loss -- yet -- for what had passed. Instead, she was impatient for what lay ahead. The future would not be like the past. It was changed. She was changed.

For a long time, they were content to kiss and caress, cautious touches that seemed to soothe as much they enflamed. Lúthien enjoyed the feeling of Beren's ropey strength against her, but she did not like to feel trapped under him, as light as he was. So she surged up moved from under him. When she was at last on top of him, her thighs straddled his chest on either side. He sighed and arched his back and she ground against him.

He grew desperate, she grew more deliberate.

“Oh Tinúviel,” he gasped. “If I were to -- would you -- is there any danger…”

“Not unless it be my wish to have a child," she whispered. “And yours.”

“That would be true if you -- if I was -- I mean, with another Elf, yes, but with me?”

“We are in new territory here,” she admitted, thinking of her parents. Had they discussed her existence at such a time? What a thing to think about now! Beren's hands, shaking, stroked against her folds. Lúthien gasped and said gently, there, please. Love.

This was dancing -- without music, but dancing all the same.

 

*

 

There was faint giggling in the air when Lúthien awoke. She stirred against Beren, whose arms were wrapped around her waist. “Mother,” he said under his breath, and the giggles grew louder.

Lúthien opened her eyes and looked around sharply. There were alone in the cave -- except for faint, gossamer threads of light floating in the air. Beren was jolted awake when a voice shouted, loud enough so that even he could hear: “WAKE UP, BIRD-BOY!”

“Who’s there? Reveal yourself!” Beren shouted, reaching for a weapon (though he had none) but Lúthien stayed his hand.

“They are only looking for mischief,” she said, “pay them no mind.”

“Who are they?” Beren said, bewildered.

Lúthien looked around and realized that of course he could not see them -- and would probably not have heard them, save that they were so loud just now. Indeed, most Elves could not perceive the presence of an unclad Maiar, save by a faint fragrance in the air. She breathed in the scent in the air -- of crushed flowers, and a hint of smoke.

Mortal Men perhaps could not perceive even that.

“They are Fays of little importance,” Lúthien said sternly. “They delight in interfering. Sometimes they make their presence known to lovers in the woods in springtime to, ah, encourage their activities. Or discourage them, if the mood strikes them.”

Beren coughed and turned pink. “Is that so?”

“I assure you that it is. My father disapproves of them,” Lúthien said.

“I think I agree with him there,” Beren said, looking around suspiciously.

“I think, I think, Melian’s daughter has been robbing the cradle,” cried one of the Fays.

“RUNS IN THE FAMILY, DON’T YOU THINK?” said another.

“Oh, oh, but Lúthien, my dear. He looks so OLD! Don’t you think you could have found a newer cradle?”

“Fly, pests!” Lúthien said, waving them away. “Begone and hold your wicked tongues! Or else I will banish you from these woods for the summer. You know that I can!”

Reluctantly, they flitted away, muttering to themselves.

“Touchy, touchy!”

”OH ME, THE YOUTHS TODAY! WHAT IS THE WORLD COMING TO?”

 

*

 

Spring bloomed and grew sweeter and hotter, and the days grew longer. More and more often Lúthien would find excuses to slip away from her life at Menegroth. She was doing so now, though she stumbled over the words. She had never needed to lie before. Lúthien glanced down at her embroidery with considerable discontent. She wished she could throw this bit of tapestry into a lake!

Lady Galadriel turned to speak to her, but Lúthien had already risen. It was too stifling to stay. She was aware of the looks she drew from not just Lady Galadriel -- who looked at her with an expression that was too complicated to be called pity -- and others, who looked merely confused.

“I am sorry, but I must commune with nature immediately,” she said, at the door. “You know how it is.” There were several serious nods, but Lúthien did not stay long enough to answer any questions.

Beren was waiting for her, with a smile on his face.

“What are we doing?” he said, with a rueful shake of his head. “This is mad.”

“We are in love,” Lúthien said, laughing. Pitied? She should be envied, rather. “Everything else we will find out later.”