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The girls giggle at his sight, hands over their mouths as if the gesture disguised this unseemly outburst of frivolous glee. Handsome, they whisper and: beautiful, they correct themselves, and Bain cannot help but deem them completely mad. His father – whom of a sudden they’ve begun to call a king – is handsome. His elder sister – who then must be a princess – is beautiful. But using these words to describe the Elvenking would be like comparing candle flames to the sun.

The first time he lays eyes on Thranduil of the Woodland Realm, his breath catches in his chest and a searing heat settles on his skin, not unlike dragon fire, and with burning eyes does he drink in the sheer splendour of this creature. His beauty is the glory of winter, dazzling and cruel and sharp. Not for a moment does he mistake him for being pretty. You would not call a blade pretty either, or a bolt of lightning.

The Elf awes him, just like the vastness of the sky and the radiance of the stars awes him, and while the girls swoon over his beauty, Bain cannot suppress a faint shiver. He – who stood against Smaug the Terrible, and who helped slay him – is not only stunned by Thranduil’s presence, he even feels the strange urge to hide behind his father, bury his face in the warmth of his coat like a lad half his age.

Hush, sisters! he wants to cry out. Do not make him notice yourselves! Or have you forgotten the Erl-King’s tale? Don’t you remember the stories nan told us on evenings, dark and cold, when the mist crawled over the lake and the waves murmured their secrets against the wooden piles of our house?

Perhaps they simply do not sense the lure. Perhaps it does in deed not concern them. For the tale tells of a boy, huddled against his father – in just the same fashion Bain now longs for – to protect himself from the Elf’s call, from his enticement and promise and threat. Together they race through the night in a desperate attempt to outrun the Erl-King’s spell, yet to no avail. And just like the father in the song of old, Bard, King of Dale, does not seem concerned about elven snares and the well-being of his children, and only laughs at Bain’s declaration of unease, dismissing his alarm as an understandable yet silly reaction to the strange and unknown.

But Bain knows what he knows. He has felt the Elf’s pull from the first moment he saw him, the sickening hollowness in his gut – that, after all, can only be fear – and the nervous flutter of his heart. He will have me and hurt me, he thinks, and there is nothing I could do to stop him.

Still, for some rather odd reason, when he lies down to sleep at night, the thought rouses his flesh, this treacherous part of him that of late has begun to stir at any occasion, at any view, may it be the uncovered swell of a woman’s breast or the mere idea of thighs curving into buttocks. Bain understands that it is part of becoming a man, the beastly desires and unquenchable need, and he has already learned – to some degree – to control the urges and the involuntary stiffening of his cock. All it takes is to touch himself every so often, wrap his fingers around his shaft and move them carefully up and down, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until he is thrusting into his hand, desperate and shameless, only barely stifling the moans and whimpers that gather in his chest.

But now, he cannot do it, he dares not, because he fears giving in to his fantasy might seal his fate, open the doors of his mind wide for the Elvenking’s appetites and render him defenseless against his wilful desire. And so he lies in the dark and imagines strong, pale hands to hold him down, cool against the heat of his skin, and steel-scent of breath on his face and the soft hair like wind on his chest. He has no words for what he wants him to do, not the shred of a notion, but he is hard nonetheless, cock leaking, so eager he dreads to spill just from the idea of his touch. And when sleep finally claims him, he dreams of the woods, of whispers in the withering leaves, of figures like willows and other, viler things lurking in the dark.

Bain wakes in the morning, sticky – for against his will he has spent himself in his sleep – yet still full of unresolved tension, and even the chill of the washing water fails to abate the tightness of his skin or the snake-coil of renewed arousal in his belly. It appears the Elf has already wrought his magic, Bain thinks when he finds himself irresistibly drawn towards the royal tent. He went to search for his father, yet somehow he cannot guess where else to look for him but in Thranduil’s company – who in their right mind would want to be anywhere else? – and the elven guards let him pass without question for he is, after all, the prince of this crumbling city, and although he quickly realises that Bard is not there, he still lingers. He peeks through the tarpaulins, eager to catch a glimpse of the Elvenking’s breathtaking splendour, but the tent seems empty, and at this conclusion, a sigh escapes him that might as well be a sound of relief as of disappointment.

It is then, that the tarpaulin is pulled aside and Thranduil’s gaze falls upon him, and Bain gasps in shock and he wants to run but can’t force his legs to carry him away, for the Elf’s eyes are like arrows pinning him to the spot and if their sting appears cruel – it is nothing compared to the agony the Elvenking’s faint smile brings down on his heart: sweet, raw, merciless it grasps it, catches it, cages it with the thorny tendrils of love-stricken frenzy, and Bain knows that he shall be enthralled for all time.