It was Yule, a time for the death of old things, for blazing fires that defied the dark and cold, for laughter and wine and joy – and for whispers of the green hope of spring to come. Snow drifted against the walls and filled the streets, and the jewel-coloured pennants streaming from the towers snapped in the fierce north wind. At dawn and sunrise, Gondolin blushed icy pink. The sun's sharp light glared from its walls through the day, and at night, frozen under the stars, the Hidden City glittered silver.
At this time of year, after feasting, many of the King's household would gather in the Hall of Fire. Often they were joined by Gondolin's great lords and their families, and by high-ranked members of the Twelve Houses. Golden Glorfindel and bright Ecthelion would sit on carved benches by the hearth, surrounded by hopeful maidens, admiring youths, and eager, clamouring children. With patient smiles and soft, kind eyes they would share stories of their exploits, or tell tales of fair forsaken Tirion, while the light flickered across their features and flashed in their hair.
“Quite a sight, are they not?”
Voronwë started and turned. Behind him, leaning against one of the great marble pillars, was a slender Elf with long, straight, black hair.
“Forgive me.” The stranger gave a lazy smile. “I tread quietly. The force of long habit.” The voice was low and darkly musical, like the echo of a stone fallen into deep water. He stepped out of the shadows and into the glow of the fire. “You're Aranwë's boy, aren't you?”
The stranger extended his right hand, the smile widening. His eyes were the cool pale green of the winter plain. “Elemmakil, of the House of the Fountain.”
Voronwë gripped the outstretched arm. Heat prickled across his cheeks and neck. “Voronwë, of the House of the King.” Fool, he said to himself, embarrassment curling hot in his throat. Why did you not give your name first? It's what courtesy dictates, he'll think you an uncouth stripling... “I've heard of you,” he made himself say, though his tongue felt too big for his mouth. “You guard the way into the city. They say you can track a sparrow through the mountains on a night with no moon.”
Elemmakil laughed, and Voronwë's blush deepened.
Hells, now you sound as witless as those dolts fawning over Glorfindel.
“That is one of my duties, yes – although “they” exaggerate greatly.” Elemmakil tilted his head. “You look very like your grandmother.”
“Findis?” Voronwë's heart gave a double-thump; his father spoke of their family so rarely. “Did you know her?”
“I wouldn't say that. I was a member of her household.” His eyes flicked towards the pair of famous warriors by the hearth. Each now held a child on their knee. “As was my Lord Ecthelion.”
Sweet notes drifted from the harp and flute. Voronwë looked again at Elemmakil, carefully searching his face – yes, there. That flare behind the eyes, white and ancient, bright like the moon and stars and yet deeper, purer, more dangerous. His breath froze, and the heat crept from his face through his chest and down his arms. “I didn't know.” He watched as Ecthelion pulled a silver coin from behind the child's ear, and the little girl squealed with delight and clapped her hands. “My father doesn't like to speak of Valinor – or hear of it. I think he wishes he'd never left.”
“He is not alone in that.” Elemmakil folded his arms. “Although he met your mother on these shores, did he not?”
A great gnarled log shifted and hissed in the fireplace, sending showers of sparks howling up the chimney. Several of Glorfindel and Ecthelion's admirers shrieked in mock-alarm, then giggled, fanning themselves and blushing. The taste of smoke in the air grew sharper, and embers drifted from the grate.
Elemmakil shook his head, smiling as Ecthelion returned a handkerchief one of the young women had dropped. “Well, well. To the bottle I go.” He turned to Voronwë and gave a slight bow. “I'm glad to have met you, child of Finwë's line.”
Voronwë watched him as the evening deepened. He saw the careful attention Elemmakil paid to his lord, the way he kept to the shadows when he wasn't required, the lingering gaze of those green eyes on Ecthelion's fair face. A jealous, yearning ache stirred in Voronwë's belly. Such things, he knew, were against the laws of Valinor – although Elemmakil did not seem to care, or perhaps he did not expect to find himself watched. He did not draw the eye as Glorfindel did; he was not so tall as Egalmoth, nor beautiful like Ecthelion. His clothes were dark and plain, and his bearing such that he slid in and out of the chattering crowds like an otter gliding through water. His face was noble and keen but otherwise unremarkable – and yet...and yet...
Once or twice he lifted his eyes to meet Voronwë's, as though he knew the younger Elf was staring. He would quirk a brow, or curve one corner of his mouth. Each time Voronwë blushed deeply and looked away, heat pooling in his stomach.
As the night wore on the children were taken to bed; space was cleared, and the soothing strains of the harp gave way to wild, whirling jigs on the fiddle. Voronwë drank until he was giddy from mead and spiced sweet wine, and danced until his muscles ached and it hurt to draw breath into his lungs. His face burned and his hair was damp at the roots.
“Give me a moment,” he laughed as a fair-haired young woman with blue eyes held her hand out for another dance. She smiled and gave him a coy wink, then turned her lovely face to a tall young man with a silver harp stitched onto his black doublet. He offered her his arm, blinking, as though barely able to believe his luck.
Voronwë sighed and sank into the nearest chair as the couples formed two long lines down the room, men on one side and women on the other. At the far end of the hall, closest to the musicians, Ecthelion bowed to Idril, and the flute struck up a merry reel like the laugh of a babbling brook.
“She was pretty.”
He knew the deep, musical voice in a syllable. Heat flooded up to the tips of his ears. “Who was?”
“The golden-haired girl you let slip away.”
“Perhaps.” He watched her curtseying to her partner. “If you like the type.”
Elemmakil slid into the seat next to him. “Which you do not.”
Voronwë smiled and shrugged.
“I understand. A little obvious, perhaps.” Elemmakil sipped his wine and held Voronwë's gaze. “You've been watching me.”
A hot dart of shock in his breast – but Elemmakil's pale green eyes were gentle, understanding, kind.
“I cannot give you what I suspect you want.”
The joyful exhilaration of the dance seeped from him, though his heart still thudded like one of Rog's hammers. At the top of the set Ecthelion and Idril spun one another around. Other couples who were no longer dancing crept away into corners, some with mistletoe in hand, some needing no such pretext. Voronwë saw Elemmakil's eyes stray again to the blue-clad Lord of the Fountain. “Because of Ecthelion.”
Elemmakil tensed, and then laughed and drained his cup. “You're sharp.”
Ecthelion and Idril set off down the lines, whirling the other dancers around before coming back together in the middle, faces alight. Voronwë signalled to one of the servants to bring them more wine, though his lips already tingled and felt clumsy when he spoke.
“But yes.” Elemmakil paused and held out his cup as the servant tipped ruby-coloured liquid from a jug. He watched until the boy was out of earshot. “I do love him.” A sidelong look, a curious smile. “Not that I make a habit of admitting it, of course, and not that he looks on men in that way.”
Voronwë took a sip of his own wine. It tasted of cinnamon and plums, and its warmth eased the snatching tension inside him. The reel grew faster and wilder. “I had thought perhaps...him and Glorfindel...”
This time the laugh was almost a bark. “Once or twice, after a battle – but don't believe everything you hear.”
He nodded slowly. “Do you wish to speak of it?”
A shadow darkened Elemmakil's eyes, so briefly that it might have been a trick of the shifting light. “No. But I thank you.”
Voronwë nodded and got to his feet. That last glass had perhaps been a mistake, he thought ruefully as the edges of his vision blurred. He did his best to hold himself steady, not wishing to appear a fool in front of Elemmakil. “Then I will bid you goodnight.” A wild, wicked whisper crept into his mind, a thought that he would not have entertained if sober – and it caught at him and flared and burned like the liqueur in his blood. No, the better part of him scolded. How can you think it, after what he has just said? But dizzy with the madness of it, goaded by the insistent ache in his groin, he asked, “Unless you would join me in my chambers?”
Sleek dark brows flew up in shock.
“It isn't far.” Voronwë tilted his head, allowed a little mischief into his smile, hoped the blood rising to his cheeks made him seem sensuous and appealing, and not simply drunk. “You would not be gone for long.”
A slow, amused smile lit Elemmakil's features. “Are you so sure of your own skill?”
Doubt flickered in him. In truth he had never been with a man, and his experience with maids was limited – swift caresses in shadowed alcoves, kisses and giggles and whispers, bursts of forbidden sweetness to be hurried and shared before some nosy steward came bustling around the corner.
Elemmakil chuckled. “Forgive me. That was cruel.” He stood up and finished his wine, and his pale green eyes travelled over Voronwë again, thougtful, considering. “You understand that...?”
That this is no Yuletide romance. That your heart is given to another who cannot return what you feel. That I am a distraction only – comfort for the long winter night. The burning deepened. “Yes.”
“Then lead the way.”
Voronwë remembered little of their walk through the palace halls, although Elemmakil told him much later that he had chattered on like a washerwoman - and then when Voronwë blushed with the shame of it, Elemmakil laughed and kissed his forehead and assured him he had been most endearing. He did remember the fire in his chambers, the way the shadows and flames danced across the walls, the gleam of the light in Elemmakil's hair. He remembered the blossom-scented mead, the hiss and crackle of a log added to the hearth before it was dry, the feathered brush of snowflakes against his window. He remembered the taut warrior's body, muscles hard under his shaking fingers, and the deft, gentle touches from Elemmakil that stoked the ache in his groin to a desperate inferno. He remembered moaning for release, recalled Elemmakil brushing his lips against his neck and murmuring, “Not yet. Not yet,” and pushing him onto the bed. He remembered crying out as Elemmakil took him in his mouth, then whimpering as tongue and teeth were withdrawn and cool air kissed the sensitive skin.
A nip to his shoulder, a thumb teasing along the line of his hip – a hand taking his and guiding it downwards, pleasure spiking in him as Elemmakil tipped back his head and gasped – and then another push, a giddy tumble onto his stomach, crisp sheets fisted into his hand as Elemmakil's slender fingers readied him, pain and ecstasy burning together.
Another soft, lingering kiss on his neck. He yelped as Elemmakil entered him, but it faded into a moan of delight as the other Elf brushed careful fingers against the tip of his length, and then took it in a hand damp with spit and sweat. They moved, thrusting together in instinctive rhythm. The winter air rushed against his throat as he approached the brink, aching heat building and thrumming like the beat of a drum.
He slowed, balancing them on the edge, the pair of them taut and poised like dancers on the blade of a sword. Voronwë closed his eyes, his breath ragged and shallow, waiting, whether for a moment or an age he later had no idea – and then Elemmakil thrust deeply, his hand following his body's rhythm, and Voronwë cried out and was lost in the searing joy of his release, wave after wave of it soaring through him, breaking, engulfing him. Somewhere in the hazy rush he felt a fierce triumph as Elemmakil moaned deeply and spasmed inside him. Warm seed spilled, and he tightened, teasing, prolonging, tormenting, every heartbeat bringing another sweet, hot surge – and then it was over, and he was gasping, shattered. His legs shook. He collapsed onto his side, body as limp as the coverlet his hand still clung to.
“Well.” Elemmakil sank down beside him and cupped his cheek, green eyes soft and sleepy with pleasure. “That was...unexpected.”
Voronwë gave a breathy laugh. “For me as well.”
A calloused thumb stroked his brow and temple. “Ah, Voronwë Aranwion.” Sadness flickered across the even features, and Voronwë covered Elemmakil's hand with his own. “You are very lovely.”
“And you have...your voice is...” He fumbled for the pretty metaphor that had sprung to his mind earlier, but his tongue felt too big for his mouth again, and he regretted the wine that had made him bold enough to ask Elemmakil here in the first place.
Elemmakil laughed and kissed him lightly on the lips. “Thank you.”
It would have to do for now. Voronwë sank into the pillows, savouring the sated exhaustion that stole through his limbs. Elemmakil lay beside him, stroking his hair until his heavy eyelids closed, and he drifted into sleep.