Summer, T.A. 2960
The breeze was fragrant with the scent of sun-warmed flowers when Haldir arrived at Alphwen's talan.
"Haldir!" she exclaimed in delight. "How many years has it been?"
"Far too many," he said, embracing her and kissing her cheek. "How are you? And your family?"
They chatted of family and friends and old times for nearly two hours before Haldir came to the purpose of his visit.
"I know that in late years you have been practicing weaving, rather than silver-smithing, but I hoped that you might be able to suggest someone to make a ring for me. I want to give it as a gift to my partner. Just before I went on leave, we were on patrol together and encountered a party of a half-dozen Orcs just beyond the edge of the Wood; his quickness saved me from a nasty wound that day, and I would like to give him something as a thank-you."
"What did you have in mind?" asked Alphwen.
"Nothing too elaborate. I was thinking of a pattern of mallorn leaves and flowers around a plain band," said Haldir.
Alphwen took up a wax tablet and stylus and with quick strokes sketched several designs. She passed the tablet to Haldir. "Like one of those? The pattern could be engraved on the metal, or it could be inlaid, for more contrast."
Haldir traced the outline of the second sketch. "This is lovely, Alphwen – very much what I had in mind. Do you know someone who has the time to make it quickly, and soon? I have only three weeks' leave."
She smiled and said, "Oh, this is simple. In fact, I will make it for you myself. I am certain that Angor will allow me to borrow his forge for a few hours."
"Is Angor working in silver now? I had not heard that."
"Gold, actually, much of the time. Are you sure that you want this ring to be silver?" Alphwen asked.
Looking at her designs again, Haldir tried to visualize the finished ring. "It is so beautiful, Alphwen, that I fear I will have trouble giving it away! Would it be too much to ask, would it take too long, if you made a gold ring inlaid with silver for my partner, and a silver ring with gold for me?"
Alphwen laughed, saying, "You always were a bit of a flatterer, Haldir. Yes, I will do that. Do you know how large a ring your friend wears?"
"I took the measure from another ring he has," admitted Haldir, and passed her a thin leather cord with knots in it to mark the length.
"How sensible of you. Let me measure your finger now – there – and I will begin on them tomorrow, if Angor is amenable. Why don't you meet me in six days' time; I will talk to some of our other old friends and invite them to join us, with their spouses and children. You will enjoy meeting my spouse Carandir, I am sure. He is interested in languages, and you were always keen to learn those, I remember. But you have no spouse of your own, still?" said Alphwen, her grey eyes dark and compassionate.
"No maiden has ever captured my heart," Haldir said, his playful tone suggesting that he held the matter to be unimportant, though he was several centuries past the age by which most Elves of Lórien wed.
"Ah, well. Perhaps you will meet someone at this gathering, and if not, then someday."
Haldir gazed with satisfaction at the pair of rings, mirror images in gold and silver, laid on a scrap of blue cloth. He had tried on his own ring at Alphwen's insistence to be sure that it fit properly, but had decided not to wear it until he gave its mate to his partner. Thinking ahead to that moment, Haldir's smile held a hint of sadness.
He and Melpomaen had worked together for seventeen years, and were regarded as one of the best and most effective partnerships among the border guards. What no one else in Lórien knew, however, was that for the past twelve years they had also been an indissolubly bonded pair, a circumstance that had occurred during a journey to Dale on behalf of Lord Celeborn. In the course of their travels, they had run out of the waybread, lembas, which had the little-known quality of dissociating emotion from physical response. Freed of its constraints, he and Melpomaen had become lovers; had they not both been male, they would be considered espoused, but since they were, their bond and commitment was tabu.
They had remained in the guard company, despite the constraints of again eating lembas regularly with all its consequences, because both of them enjoyed the life otherwise, and they could work and dwell together openly although not make love. Someday, perhaps, another solution would need to be sought. Haldir knew that Melpomaen, by far the younger, found it a greater burden and frustration than he himself did, to know that he wanted to express his affection physically, and yet find in himself no response of that sort. But Haldir, too, found it distressing at times, especially now when the effects of lembas had worn off and he was alone without his lover.
Alphwen's party had brought that home to him. It had been pleasant to see so many of the friends of his youth, with their spouses and children and even grandchildren, but their acknowledged happiness emphasized his own difference. As far as any of them knew, he had no lifemate, and with the best of intentions they introduced him to various women they believed he might like. Indeed he did find them congenial, but he felt that he deceived everyone by being unable to say that his spirit was already bonded with another.
Equally he felt restrained when he bade his parents farewell. They would be not only disappointed but horrified were he to tell them that he had formed a bond with his partner, and was now returning eagerly to his mate. His mixed emotions caused him to embrace them tightly, but then to quickly shoulder his pack and depart to walk back to his company's camp.
Somewhat to Haldir's dismay, Melpomaen was nowhere to be seen when he reached the talan that they shared, although he was touched by the fact that the space was entirely tidy. Melpomaen was fond of leaving his clothes and other belongings strewn at haphazard, one of the regular causes of friction between them. Haldir unpacked his few things quickly and made certain that the two rings were stowed in his belt-pouch. He had reported his return to Captain Lórindol and was going to draw his evening ration when Melpomaen came trotting down the path and greeted him.
"Dír! How was your journey? I thought you were not returning until tomorrow." Melpomaen's eyes were alight with happiness as he embraced Haldir.
"You must have misremembered," said Haldir, "for I always intended to return today; or perhaps I was not clear. But no matter. I saw our talan and I thank you for cleaning it up for me." He nudged Melpomaen in the ribs. "I know that is not your favorite chore.
"The journey was fine and I enjoyed the visit with my family, and friends I had not seen in some time. How have things been here? No more Orc patrols to deal with, I hope?"
Melpomaen shook his head. "No, the borders have been quiet for the past several weeks. Have you spoken to the captain yet?"
"I told him that I had returned, of course, but that is all. Why?" asked Haldir.
"He said nothing to you of our next assignment?"
"No, nothing," Haldir said.
"Good. I asked him to let me tell you about it – but after supper," said Melpomaen, as several of the other members of the company appeared in the clearing, greeting Haldir and asking what he had done while on leave.
It was not until late, when the stars were bright in the sky and a nearly-full moon shone high above the treetops, that the two were able to retire to their talan.
"I missed you, meldanya, my beloved," said Haldir into Melpomaen's ear as they held each other. "I wished that we could have our leaves together, but that could be – complicated, I fear. I brought something for you, though." He drew out the little cloth-wrapped packed and gave it to Melpomaen.
"The gold is for you, the silver for me," Haldir added as Melpomaen unfolded the layers of fabric and revealed the pair of gleaming rings.
"How beautiful," said Melpomaen softly. He picked up his ring and examined the fine work, turning it over and over in the lamplight.
"Let me put it on you," Haldir requested, and took Melpomaen's right hand, slipping the ring onto his forefinger. "Alphwen said that she would adjust it if necessary, but it seems to fit."
Melpomaen nodded. He took up the second, silver ring and placed it on Haldir's finger, then kissed the palm of Haldir's hand. "Thank you, Dír. This is such a thoughtful gift – I hardly know what to say."
"I'm glad you like it," said Haldir. He reached out to stroke Melpomaen's hair and tuck back the loose strands. He would have liked to make love, to show his bondmate how much he cared for him, but that was impossible, so he contented himself with kissing Melpomaen's cheek.
"I have a gift for you, too," said Melpomaen, "that I hope you will like. Well, not exactly a gift."
Haldir waited, but Melpomaen did not move to bring something. Instead he continued speaking.
"Lórindol finally agreed; I spent most of the time you were away convincing him that we would be more punctual in our return than last time, but he has chosen us to carry a message up to King Thranduil of Mirkwood. So we will have two, perhaps three months of travel together again, just the two of us. We are to leave almost immediately, three days from now. Unless you are unwilling to go, since you just returned?" Melpomaen ended with a touch of anxiety in his voice. "Lórindol did insist that you give your consent, since this is beyond the normal course of duty, and there are others who would undertake the task."
"Of course I will go, Maen," said Haldir, taking his lover's hands between his own, the rings declaring their bond glinting on their fingers. "Of course I will."