The dumbwaiter rattled as it ascended to the hallway outside Elrond’s room. Melpomaen retrieved it and rapped gently at the door.
“Your breakfast is here, milord.”
“Come in,” Elrond called.
Mel entered and quickly set the table for two out of long habit, making sure everything was placed exactly so.
Elrond came out from the bedroom, tying the belt of his dressing gown as he seated himself and stared moodily at the meal in front of him.
“Is anything wrong?” Mel asked, sitting down and pouring a cup of tea for himself and Elrond.
“The patrols have reported an increasing number of mountain trolls and orcs roaming the outlands. I fear it is a sign of things to come.”
Mel’s brow furrowed. “That is certainly unusual, but perhaps there is trouble within the mountain. Could the Dwarves be mounting another campaign to retake Moria?”
Elrond gave him a wry smile. “That is a good observation, Mel, but I don’t think that’s the answer. The Dwarves have no desire to return to Khazad-dûm. There is nothing but death there now.”
“Whatever the reason, I hope they stay well away from the valley,” Mel said with a frown.
“Their numbers aren’t large, perhaps it is only a coincidence,” Elrond said, buttering his toast. “But on to more pleasant matters. Autumn is waning and a new year is upon us. There are many preparations to make for the winter festival…”
There was a sudden, urgent knock at the door, cutting off his thought. Mel quickly tidied his side of the table, stowing his dishes under the covered serving platter and standing attentively, but no too attentively, at Elrond’s side.
Erestor entered. He looked anxious. “Scouts have reported Orcs upon the plains above. Glorfindel is mounting an armed contingent to assess the situation.”
Elrond stood. “I shall go as well. Tell Glorfindel to expect me in the courtyard in a few minutes.” He looked at Mel who had paled visibly at the news but showed no emotion.
“I will,” Erestor said. He gave a slight bow and left.
“I’ll clear up and meet you at your office upon your return,” Mel said when Erestor had departed.
“Good lad,” Elrond clapped him on the shoulder. He jumped slightly but covered it by moving with haste to clear the table.
“Don’t worry, Mel,” he said reassuringly. “Glorfindel will take good care of us.”
“I know. It’s just so hard to… wait on the sidelines while you go off and play soldier.”
Elrond laughed aloud at this. “Play soldier? You may be too young to remember the battles but I know you have read the histories.”
Now Mel blushed scarlet. “Forgive me the occasional foolish remark. I never think of you that way.”
Elrond went to him, his dressing gown open, displaying his powerful chest. He kissed Mel on the lips and gave him a fond look. “And with any luck you will never have to.”
Minutes later Mel was in Elrond’s study, looking out the window as the company mounted up and rode away. “Be wise, my love, be safe,” he said softly.
Within an hour there was a tumult in the courtyard that grew so loud Mel looked up from his work and stepped to the window. His eyes widened to see what could only be described as a motley assortment of Dwarves crowded together around an even smaller, beardless figure Mel took to be one of their children. He could hear the belligerence in the gruff voices though he couldn’t make out what they were saying. Poor Lindir was speaking to them but they didn’t seem to like what they were hearing. Then he caught sight of Gandalf. The old Wizard gave Lindir a shrug and leaned on his staff.
The sound of hooves clattering upon cobblestones came next as the returning soldiers surrounded the small party. Elrond dismounted and Mel saw he and Gandalf embrace and exchange a few words. Elrond’s eyebrow went up. This was going to be an interesting story, he just knew it.
He went back to work and before long Elrond swept in. He had removed his armor but Mel could smell the faint scent of horse and leather along with the chill scent of the windy plain.
“What’s going on?” Mel couldn’t stay his curiosity. “I didn’t want to stand in the window and stare but a group of dirty, adventure worn Dwarves with a child in tow is not how these orc raids usually end.”
Elrond chuckled. “Indeed. Well it seems the orcs that were spotted were chasing our visitors. The company is making its way East, and though they refuse to state their purpose I fear it bodes ill. Gandalf is tight-lipped as always. Ah, well, I’m sure their purpose will come to light in time.” He paused and looked thoughtful for a moment, then continued. “And it is not a child accompanying them. It’s a Hobbit. I can’t tell you the last time I saw one. They haven’t been the traveling type since the Shire was founded many years ago. This is quite a mystery.”
“The Dwarves do not seem happy to be here.”
“That is true, but but Gandalf has herded them here for some purpose. They will spend a few days then continue to wherever they are going.”
Elrond looked around the study. “I am guessing in my absence you have finished the manifests.”
“There weren’t many,” Mel said modestly.
“It would have taken me two days to get through all that work. I’m glad Erestor put you forward as my secretary. Your swiftness and efficiency are so…” His eyes took on a hungry gleam… sexy.”
Mel picked up a quill and traced the feathery tips seductively down the front of his shirt. “I’m glad you approve of my work ethic and… skill,” he purred.
They both laughed, then kissed and held each other for a moment.
“Perhaps we could pick up where we left off this morning,” Elrond suggested.
There was a knock on the door and Lindir stepped in. They both managed to be on opposite sides of the desk when he entered.
“Very good,” Elrond said. “Make sure Erestor gets a copy of all these for the files.”
“Certainly, my lord,” Mel said. He left briskly, slowing down only when he reached the end of the hall, his heart racing. That was close. He was going to have to be more discreet or the whole valley would be gossiping, it wouldn’t be proper. After all, he was half Elrond’s age, actually much younger than that, and was a lowborn Silvan Elf. Elrond didn’t make those distinctions but others did, and Mel wouldn’t have him held up to ridicule or shame on his account.
That evening, after supper, Mel was eager for Elrond to turn in so he could sneak into his chambers, but there was much discussion with Gandalf, and Mel did not find him retired even though he went to his rooms late. He was just coming out of Elrond’s rooms when a tiny man with curly hair and hairy feet hailed him.
“Excuse me! Can you tell me where to find the kitchen. I’m afraid the Dwarves threw most of our supper at Lindir. Too much “green” or something. I’m starving.”
Mel froze like a frightened deer. “Uh, I’m afraid you’re a bit off the path,” he said at last. The kitchens are back that way.” He pointed in the direction the Hobbit had come from.
“Ah, yes. Thanks. If you see Elrond tell him we thank him for his hospitality. I’m Bilbo by the way.” He held out a tiny hand and Mel shook it automatically, the mention of the name Elrond throwing him.
“Uh… I will… uh, Bilbo. I’m Melpomaen, Elrond’s secretary.”
“Then this must be his study.” Bilbo craned his neck to see inside but Mel closed the door quickly.
“No, this is his private chambers. I was just dropping off some… paperwork for tomorrow.”
Bilbo grinned. “Get an early start, get an early end, eh? Good for him.” He wandered off, muttering something about hoping they had some honey for his bread.
Mel leaned against the door to catch his breath then darted back to his own quarters.
The next morning as he was serving breakfast Elrond filled him in on the previous evening.
“They had a map of the Lonely Mountain written in certhas ithil. It appears to be instructions for how to enter the hidden door there. What I don’t understand is why Gandalf would aid them in this folly. The dragon in that mountain is too powerful for any to stand against, even a wizard. The whole enterprise troubles me.”
“What can that mean? What happens if the dragon is unleashed. It could devastate the surrounding country for miles. Thranduil’s realm is not far from there. They must be warned!”
“How can I warn Thranduil when I don’t know what plan Gandalf is working on? Perhaps the Dwarves only want to scout the area. Perhaps they only want to get a look within and see if the dragon still guards his hoard. No one has been in that mountain in hundreds of years. I don’t like it, but what can I do?”
“If all they want to do is have a look, why bring that Hobbit with them?”
“Bilbo? I have no idea. Perhaps he’s Thorin’s secretary.” He gave Mel a mischievous grin. “Now to the matter of you you being caught there. I’m afraid we may have to give up our late night trysts for a time.”
“I’m sorry I got caught last night but I didn’t know you’d be out so late. It was very difficult to get up and get dressed in my quarters then come all the way over here to serve your breakfast. It’s so much easier when I can just dress and go out in the hall.”
“Perhaps you are getting too comfortable with our routine,” Elrond teased. “I might have to start finding excuses to visit you.”
Mel laughed. “That would certainly ease suspicion, the lord of the house wandering the staff quarters in the middle of the night. I promise to stay away until you send for me. I just hope it’s soon.”
“Don’t count on it. The White Council is coming. I think they will want the Dwarves to remain our guests for a time until Gandalf explains himself or a course of action can be decided.”
Mel sighed. “I guess there’s nothing left to do then but clear the table and get to work.”
Over the next few days work is all Mel got done. It wouldn’t have been so bad if he wasn’t doing it all alone. He was used to Elrond’s presence in the study or the councils. He was used to the touching and kisses and… everything, during their breaks, and he was used to leaving for his rooms at the end of the day to dress for dinner with a giddy anticipation of the night to come. Now, every time they got within two feet of each other someone burst through the door to tell a breathless tale of arguing Dwarves and angry Elves or to say they had coaxed nothing more from Gandalf despite their cunning. It was all very frustrating and Mel was starting to feel the strain.
He stayed away from Elrond’s rooms for three days before he’d had enough. It couldn’t possibly hurt to just walk down the hall. It was very late. Why would anyone be up this time of night?
Mel slipped down the hall, a sheaf of papers in his hand for cover in case he got caught. To his delight, the halls were empty, not a sound could he hear from any of the adjoining halls. He paused outside Elrond’s door, just on the verge of knocking when a potted plant at the end of the hall rose and came toward him. That’s when he saw it wasn’t a potted plant at all, it was a Dwarf with an elaborate beard and a pipe in his mouth. Why was he sitting at the end of the hall. The man staggered up to him and wrung his hand.
“You looking for Elrond? Well so am I. Why did he say we can’t leave the valley? What’s going on? We have an appointment to keep.”
“I just came by to drop some paperwork off,” Mel said. His voice shook a little but he wasn’t sure if the Dwarf noticed.
”This time of night? You must be drunker than I am,” the Dwarf said. He laughed so hard he began to cough and Mel was forced to pat him on the back. “I’m Nori. If Elrond shows up to do his “paperwork” in the morning, tell him I waited. Then had to go throw up!” Nori clapped a hand over his mouth and bolted down the hall. Mel stood, horrified, listening. After a moment the sound of retching reached his ears. He really hoped the man had found an open window. Afraid to go look, he quietly slunk back to his rooms.
“Do you realize breakfast is the only time we’ve seen each other in almost a week?” Mel asked the next morning. There was a peevish edge to his voice that made him wince.
“It can’t be helped,” Elrond said. I had to try again with Gandalf. Saruman is coming today and I was hoping to have this figured out before the council. It’s difficult to make a decision without all the facts.”
“Sleeping alone is no picnic either,” Mel groused. “Oh, I’m sorry, I just miss you, that’s all.”
“Obviously that’s not all,” Elrond said. “I remember what it’s like to be young and eager. It won’t be much longer, I promise. After the council things can get back to normal around here.”
What if the council decides the Dwarves can’t be allowed to leave? They are restless and growing angrier by the day. The only one who never complains is the Hobbit. I think he likes it here.”
“We’ll cross that insurmountable obstacle when it falls in our path,” Elrond said. “Until then we must hold out hope.”
That evening, Mel left the Hall of Fire when Lindir started playing the lute. He was going to have to take matters into his hands, so to speak, until he and Elrond could be together again. As he passed an alcove with an arras, a strong hand reached out and pulled him inside.
“Elrond!” he gasped when he saw his assailant. Elrond was wearing a cloak with the hood covering his face.
“Shh! We don’t have much time,” Elrond whispered. They reached for each other when suddenly the arras was pulled aside. Galadriel was standing there. Mel was certain he could feel his heart stop.
“I thought I saw you come in here but you were wearing a cloak so I couldn’t be sure,” Galadriel said. “I hate to interrupt, but I’m afraid there’s a problem with Saruman. If you have a few minutes?”
“Yes, of course,” Elrond said without hesitation. He and Galadriel left, arm in arm, but not before she glanced back at Mel with a grin.
He could never be sure if it was the lady but a thought slid smoothly into his mind almost as if it were his own “Naughty boy” then faded away slowly.
The next day found Mel working away halfheartedly in Elrond’s study when there was a knock at the door. He sighed heavily. “Come in.”
Erestor entered and Mel went back to the letter he was drafting. “Elrond hasn’t been in today.”
“I’m not looking for Elrond, I’m looking for you. What happened here? Looks like Manwë has been playing with cyclones.”
“Things have been a little busy here lately, in case you hadn’t noticed.”
“Ooh, sorry. Someone got up on the wrong side of his own bed this morning.”
Mel gave him a wan smile. “I’m the one to apologize. I’ve been out of sorts, I’m afraid. Too much work and too little of me to do it.”
“Sure, it’s the workload,” Erestor nodded sagely. “You and Elrond haven’t been breakfasting together these past few days.”
“Not since the White Council showed up. It was hard enough keeping our relationship under wraps when it was just Dwarves and Hobbits wandering the halls. These people have the power to… see things.”
“They would never invade your privacy like that.”
“Galadriel caught us behind an arras the other night. In a trysting alcove off the Hall of Fire.”
Erestor’s eyes widened and his eyebrows climbed into his hairline. “Indeed? Well, I see something needs to be done. Let me see what I can come up with.”
“Thanks, but it’s all right. I’m sure it won’t be long before things are ironed out with the Dwarves and they can be sent on their way.”
“Saruman advised the council yesterday to keep them stalled here until after Durin’s Day. Elrond agreed.”
“He what?” Mel jumped up, upsetting the ink all over the parchment. “Bloody hell!” he shouted, mopping up with his handkerchief.
When the crisis was over he plopped into his chair. He rubbed his eyes wearily then looked up at Erestor. “How much worse can this situation get?”
“On a personal note, for you, I’d say just a bit. You look like a raccoon.” He burst into a laugh and Mel burst into tears, making little rivulets of watery ink run down his cheeks. Erestor went to him and wiped away his inky tears with his own handkerchief.
“Look, why don’t you go clean up and take the rest of the day off,” Erestor said. “Read a book, play your harp, take a walk. Just clear your head a little. I’ll see if I can get Elrond to carve out a couple of hours tonight at supper. Someplace where the two of you can be alone.”
“Really? You can do that?”
“I am Elrond’s adviser. I’m sure I can get him to take my advice.”
Mel grabbed his hand and wrung it gratefully. “Thank you, Erestor! That would be very kind of you.” He started to leave then turned back. “Oh, but I have to clean up in here first.”
“Out with you! I used to work in here myself. I’ll put everything in order.”
Mel found himself singing a tune as he went to his quarters. He felt like a gaggle of short, stubby weights had been lifted from his shoulders.
On the way he passed Dwarves in the halls and common rooms and the Hobbit coming from the kitchens. He nodded and spoke to all of them with such cheer they were taken aback. He didn’t even mind the whispers that ensued behind him as he continued on his way.
Mel took a long bath, scrubbing the ink from his face as best he could. He dressed in simple, comfortable clothes and sat down to read but he couldn’t concentrate. All he could think of was what Erestor might me doing. Finally he put the book down and picked up his harp. He plucked at it for a bit but couldn’t think of a tune he wanted to play. Then he went to the gardens and wandered around a bit, but there were too many couples enjoying the cool fall weather. It made him feel alone and fretful.
In the end he went back to his room and took a nap.
He was awakened a couple of hours later by a knock on his door. Irritated by yet another interruption he sat up and called out gruffly, “Come in.”
He got up and went into the sitting room to find Erestor waiting. “Did you? Are we?” he asked anxiously.
Erestor looked so somber his heart fell. He slumped just as Erestor broke into a big grin, giving up the ruse. “I arranged a quiet supper for the two of you out in the woods. As far as the staff knows, Elrond will be dining alone. He wanted some time for himself away from the bustle of the house for reflection on today’s council. You can meet him there in thirty minutes.”
Mel caught Erestor up in a hug, lifting him off his feet in his joy. “Thank you! You don’t know how much this means to me.”
He released Erestor, who smoothed his rumpled robes. “I have a vague idea,” he said with a grin. “I’d suggest you don’t dress up for this. You don’t want to call attention to your exit.”
Mel, who had been thinking of wearing his finest tunic with the gold brocade, nodded. “Good idea. I just hope I can find an exit not blocked by a Dwarf, Hobbit, or spooky witch lady.”
Erestor laughed. “Don’t worry, I’ve arranged that too.”
Mel entered a remote clearing in the woods, startled at the fairy lights adorning the trees and the table in the center with a white linen tablecloth and candles. It was set for two with two serving platters and two chairs. Erestor must have taken care of these amenities personally. Mel was awed and humbled by the thought.
Elrond rose to greet him. “You have truly been working too hard, my love. You have dark circles beneath your eyes.”
Mel blushed. “It was more of an accident. I’ll explain later.”
The two embraced with exuberance and long pent up need. A light kiss turned deeper, their hands began to move and explore. Suddenly they were naked and in each others arms, slaking their hunger before the meal began. Afterward they dressed and tucked into the food, which had gotten cold. Neither cared though. They ate and chatted about everything except the business of the valley then spent the night making love under the trees watching the stars wink at them through the bare branches. In the end, they slept in a tender embrace under their cloaks, walking the night paths together in perfect contentment.
Mel woke at first light with a happy sigh which caused Elrond to stir. He opened his eyes and for a long moment they just looked at each other. Then they rose and dressed, preparing to go back to the house.
The snapping of a twig put them both on alert, but it was only Erestor, making his presence known before entering the clearing. He looked a bit relieved to see them awake and dressed.
“I’m so sorry to barge in on your time together, but I have just gotten word the Dwarves have escaped!”
“What? When?” Elrond said.
“We have determined it must have been during the council yesterday. Gandalf must have helped them slip past the patrols. Do you want me to send a contingent to detain them?”
Elrond thought it over for a moment, then shrugged. “No, that won’t be necessary. Let Gandalf have his little secrets. Perhaps things will work out for the best, at least that’s what I feel.” He turned to Mel. “I think it’s best if I get back to the house and discuss this with Glorfindel. You follow in a few moments. See if you can get back to your rooms without being seen.”
“I will,” Mel said. He gave Elrond a parting kiss. “I hope the council won’t be angry.”
“Galadriel will be all right with it, but Saruman won’t be happy. But it can’t be helped. Everyone knows Dwarves are stubborn. It is no one’s fault.”
Elrond left and Erestor and Mel began to clear the table. “Bad luck about the Dwarves escaping,” Mel said.
“Escaping?” Erestor said with a sly grin. “They didn’t escape. I packed them lunch and sent them on their way.” Mel stared at him, his mouth agape.
“Don’t tell Elrond,” he said. “If Gandalf can have his secrets we can certainly have ours.”