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The Soldier and the Spy

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The first time he saw the messenger from Lindon, stopping by on a journey whose destination he skilfully evaded giving away but would not see him swiftly returned to his sea-side home, Haldir did not particularly like him.

The elf was dull, he thought, too still compared to the inhabitants of the Golden Wood, too… bleak, somehow, in ways that had only a little to do with his pale skin and dark hair, those silver-sheen eyes that marked him a Noldo of some kind.

Those eyes seemed to pierce him, even if a young guard in the Lord’s Court hardly rated notice by a guest used to the halls of High King Gil-Galad. But the strange messenger noticed everyone, those cool eyes taking in every detail of his surroundings. Haldir thought them akin to leaves, changing colour from silver-grey to green with the weather, except the stranger’s eyes seemed stormy, despite his projected calm, nothing like the soft green pools that Calemireth had inherited from her Noldo naneth.

It was the kind of gaze that made him stand straighter, hold his weapon as though ready to draw it, and it vexed him that a stranger could make him act so, as though he wanted to make a good impression on their owner.

 


 

 

The second time Haldir saw the messenger with the unsettling gaze, he came from the south, not the west, and looked worn with travel.

This time, Haldir did not see much of him, secluded in the Lord and Lady’s chambers from dawn and far into the veil of night.

He was not chosen for the escort that the messenger accepted with bad grace, though that was a relief when they came back to report that they had lost their charge before reaching the mountains. The Dwarrow on guard at the entrance to the Dwarrowdelf had graciously – haughtily and with a great deal of snide mirth, to believe Harthor, which Haldir was inclined to do, having had the misfortune of encountering the bored and contrary Door-Keepers before – informed them that the dark-haired messenger had been permitted beyond the great doors of their realm and taken to the King there.

The Lord’s annoyance with the escort was clear, but Haldir though him secretly amused; had Celeborn expected failure when he sent the guards with the messenger?

 


 

 

The seventh time the messenger who was not a messenger arrived in Caras Galadhon, Haldir didn’t know about it until a day later, returning from a very successful hunt with some of the other young elves – Lady Celebrían had shot the largest buck, and they were all looking forward to the feast that evening.

“Erestor!” she exclaimed, greeting Haldir’s mystery messenger like an old friend and making him smile – he had a good smile, Haldir thought idly – those leaf-storm-silver eyes lightening with joy. Remembering himself, Haldir fell back on his training to keep his face blank. Somehow, he did not like the thought of those eyes knowing that he found them so intriguing.

“The hunt becomes you, my Lady,” Erestor replied, segueing smoothly as he drew his companion forward, “you are familiar with Elrond Peredhel, Herald to High King Gil-Galad, yes?”

Later, Haldir thought he was the first to see the spark of something new passing between the two, but he was somehow more taken in by the soft smile lingering around this… Erestor’s mouth.

 


 

 

The next time he saw Erestor, he was dressed for war – the armour at once familiar and somehow strange on him, as though he ought not wear it. Haldir chided himself for his fancy, following Lord Celeborn into the councils of war where he realised that his suspicions had been truer than he could have guessed

Erestor was no ordinary messenger.

Erestor… was Gil-Galad’s spymaster, the nexus point for the web of informants and scouts that provided the intelligence necessary for drawing up their battle plans.

Haldir felt an odd sort of respect fill him at the thought that the often-bedraggled elf he had seen passing through the Golden Woods more than once was worthy of the preference shown him by the Lord and Lady.

Erestor was clever, in ways that Haldir had neither expected nor encountered; creating defensive patrols in Lothlórien had seemed to him a difficult task when they needed to factor in possible raids and other incursions, but Erestor made his troubles look like the pastime of an elfling, his maps spanning most of the lands on either side of the Hithaeglir, and his knowledge twice that, stretching into lands beyond Mordor that Haldir had not even known existed.

He wanted that.

That breadth of experience suddenly made Lothlórien seem like such a small place, no matter that it was his beloved home.

He spoke nothing of this sudden yearning to see more of the world than the forest where he had been born, but the Lady knew, nonetheless, it seemed, and thus Haldir found himself journeying south, sailing further down the Anduin than he had ventured before.

 

 


 

 

 

He noticed the guard – how could he not? – with the piercing blue eyes standing by the doorway. Erestor did not afford him more than a peripheral glance in passing, but he did notice the long lashes and the way his loose hair outlined the breadth of his shoulders. Moving his gaze to the next person, he observed the Court of Lord Celeborn, feeling at once at home and foreign among the Silvans.

Lively like babbling brooks, he thought, this young court: unmarred – at least in comparison to some places he had been – by the grief that the losses of the past age had brought to Lindon. Somehow, the thought made him smile. Perhaps there was still hope for their scattered peoples, hope that they might see peace and prosperity without the threat of war.

His eyes caught on the unknown guard again, making him straighten imperceptibly to anyone else. In his own mind, Erestor smiled.

One to watch, he thought, idly wondering what the guard’s name was.

 

Haldir, was the name, which made Erestor want to chuckle, wondering how he had earned the name, but perhaps it spoke of a destiny not unlike his own?

He moved silently – a skill more common among the woodland elves, effortless as breathing compared to those born in halls of marble or stone – and Erestor envied that lightness of foot. He had learned to walk featherlight, but Haldir had an innate grace that made him pleasant to watch.

It did not hurt that Haldir was quite easy on the eyes, even if his size seemed slightly at odds with the lithe guards beside him. Erestor thought he might be pleasant in bed, but though Haldir always stood to attention when he knew Erestor was watching, he was missing that spark of something that told him an invitation to share Erestor’s bed would not go amiss.

Pity.

He’d have liked to see those shoulders bared, to have permission to explore what he thought was a finely chiselled chest – and more.

 


 

When he returned to Lothlórien, weary with travel and grief, Erestor had time for no more than a few glimpses of Haldir’s figure.

Abandoning the escort that was clearly meant as a test – Erestor was too amused to be properly insulted – was easy, and when he nodded at the Doorwarden, flashing the small pendant that allowed him passage, Erestor wondered if Haldir would be pleased he had not been chosen for the task.

 

The years passed swiftly; Erestor found himself sent here and there and everywhere, keeping ahead of Sauron’s minions and the King’s Men alike, and had little time to mull over the increasingly lovely form that was Haldir. Not to say he did not look, when opportunity beckoned, but the pale-haired ellon disappeared from his thoughts.

And yet the slight fascination endured; rekindled with each visit to the lofty halls of Caras Galadhon.

 


 

 

The Lady was hard to deny, even at the best of times, and this was hardly the best of times, Erestor mused wryly, looking over his new travelling companion. The journey was reasonably simple – down the Anduin, travelling through Gondor and back along the White Mountains, gathering reports and other general knowledge that might give them an edge in the struggle against the power of corrupted Númenor. Elros would have wept for his descendants. Oh well – at least Haldir is easy enough to look at, if a bit taciturn.

“We shall set off in the morning, my Lady,” he acquiesced, bowing with the exact respect due her position.

 


 

 

“If you are to be of any use to me,” Erestor said softly, the sound of his paddle gliding through the water like a sigh in the misty morning. Haldir stiffened slightly, but did not turn his head, his own paddle moving with a little less surety. “I shall have to teach you some of Men’s speech; where we are bound, few speak Sindarin, fewer still would understand the Woodland dialect…”

“What do they speak?” Haldir wondered; none he had spoken to seemed to consider Men incapable of Elvish.

“Westron – the Common Tongue, they call it – in general, at least north of the Poros and along the White Mountains,” Erestor explained, “which is where we are heading.”

“Do they speak no Sindarin at all?” Frowning at the thick fog, Haldir resisted the temptation to turn around, struck by a sudden curiosity – what colour were Erestor’s eyes when he spoke with such passion on a topic?

“Some do,” Erestor revealed, “but the language of Elves is to them a lordly tongue, spoken in ceremony and little else; most of the people do not understand it. North of Lothlórien they speak something else entirely, a language I have come to consider Norse Common, as the peoples there are split into clans that speak variants of a basic language – in truth, it is like Elvish, in that regard.”

Haldir’s mind spun, confusion warring with his intrigue; Erestor the scholar was a role he had never considered for the secretive elf, but his interest was clear when he spoke.

“I had not though you a master of Lore,” he replied. Silence greeted him beyond the light splash of the oars.

 

“For long happy years I was Ingolmo,” Erestor said, feeling a stab of wistful yearning – grief-tinged but precious – for the sunlit days when Eregion still stood. “In some ways I still consider myself so – even if my scrolls of histories have become reports from places most Elves have not even heard of, and my pen-strokes draw maps rather than artful illuminations.”

He had been right, he thought, watching Haldir’s shoulder move beneath the light tunic, muscles tensing and releasing with each move of the paddle: it was a set of shoulders he should have liked to see, to touch, to discover with the aid of his lips.

A shame the young elf showed no interest in such adventures.

 

Teaching him, however, had its own pleasures, Erestor discovered, intrigued by the quick wit and keen mind that Haldir's pale locks concealed. If he had not already found him interesting, spending weeks in such close company with the younger elf made him see his own feelings more clearly.

This had potential to be more than infatuation... much more.

 


 

 

Haldir had admired Erestor from afar before, but as their travels continued, his interest in the older elf seemed to grow, and each smile he could wring from those delicate lips felt like a reward. He particularly liked the light glimmer of pride he caught flashing across Erestor’s face when he braved his own worries, making his tongue contort in new and unfamiliar ways – Haldir knew he messed up the simple phrases more than once – and managed to procure a bit of supper and a place to bed down at a small farmstead.

After the meal, Erestor waved him off towards the barn to care for the horses he had purchased in Pelargir; the port town had been a harrowing experience to Haldir, filled with more Men than he had ever seen at once before, and almost frighteningly open towards the sky in a way that the rolling foothills of the White Mountains did not manage.

Gratefully Haldir escaped the small cottage – he was beginning to understand their words, but keeping up with conversation took effort; Erestor’s inflections were much clearer, his meanings more easily conveyed than the common farmer’s dialect, and Haldir had to work to understand most of the people they met. More than a few he had given up entirely, suffering in silence with a bland smile on his face and nodding graciously at whatever the Man was saying, which was not always a great idea, he’d realised. Erestor was watching, however, and so he ate the lamb’s brain – it wasn’t bad, per se, but not something he’d ever make for himself – with something pretending to be enjoyment. The evening’s supper sat uneasily; part of him wished he could have refused, thinking with no small amount of longing of the leaf-wrapped lembas his mother had packed into his bags before they left Lothlórien.

 

 

“I had not thought you would finish the meal,” Erestor remarked gently when he walked into the barn, wiping his wet hands with a twist of straw. The farmer had jumped at the chance to have a proper healer – Erestor had learned some of the trade for convenience’s sake to ease his way when he travelled – look at an abscess on his leg, and the putrid smell of pus hung in his nose.

“Naneth would consider it impolite to refuse a meal after accepting the kindness and hospitality of a stranger,” Haldir replied, “though if I had known what I was accepting…”

Erestor grinned, taking a seat on his bedroll. “You know it’s an aphrodisiac? Said to enhance the stamina of a man in…lovemaking.” He swallowed, suddenly flooded with those images he had been so careful not to consider. In his mind, Haldir’s strong chiselled face was flushed with pleasure, his muscles straining with the force of pleasure; the vision enough to take his breath away.

 

Haldir spluttered. “What?!” he exclaimed, flush with embarrassment, searching Erestor’s face for any tell-tale glimmer of mirth.

He found none.

In truth, Erestor seemed suddenly preoccupied – perhaps a memory of an old lover? – and Haldir suddenly realised that he had no idea if any such person existed in his life… jealousy filled him, aimed at a ghost-like spectre of imagination.

He wanted Erestor to be thinking of him.

“How do you… have… does that… work?” he asked, still half in disbelief.

For a brief instant, Erestor seemed startled, and then he laughed, a joyous sound that seemed to wash through Haldir like the first glimpse of a spring flower unfurling in the pale sunlight of spring.

“Does it matter?” he chuckled. “It is what they believe – perhaps it does, perhaps it does not work; have you a lover back home with whom you’d wish to test the veracity of the claim?” Still chuckling, Erestor shook his head slowly, dark locks obscuring his face for a moment.

 “No,” he admitted quietly, “I have found no love-er.” He tripped over the ending, wondering which type of lover he’d meant; for himself, Haldir had always imagined falling in love and then discovering lovemaking afterwards, but perhaps those west of the Mountains did things differently. “In Lothlórien.”

Haldir felt his cheeks heat. He wanted to be brave enough to lean in, to press his lips against Erestor’s and see if the ember he had carried in his soul for centuries might become a flame, bright and warm between them.

A bright spark of hope, not doused quite quickly enough, stole Erestor’s next breath, his chuckle dying. “Well,” he tried, failing to keep a light note of longing from creeping into his voice, “I am sure you will, someday.”

“Perhaps…” Haldir whispered, staring out the open barndoor at the calm light of the stars.

Take heart, they seemed to say.

“Though perhaps I have found him already,” he continued, feeling reckless and buoyed by the silver light of the beloved stars, “– and lack only the courage to ask his heart join with mine…”

“A lack of courage I would not ascribe to you,” Erestor murmured softly, those silvery-green eyes blazing at him from beneath dark hair. “And any ellon offered such a gift should be foolish indeed to deny it.”

Haldir leaned closer, supporting his weight with one hand, until he was close enough his breaths mingled with Erestor’s, those lips almost close enough for him to feel if they were as soft as he thought, and whispered: “Are you?”

Erestor swallowed, staring into the blazing blue eyes of the once-quiet youth he had seen mature into this competent warrior over the centuries, wondering if his ears were failing him, or Haldir truly was offering what he thought he was hearing. Licking his lips heart racing, he lifted one hand to touch Haldir’s cheek.

“What do you think?” he replied hoarsely.

Haldir kissed him.