dayriver.htmlTEXTStMl:;@>ȟrI1 A Day by the River

A Day by the River
by Jacynthe Demorae

The Sun gilded the water's surface, giving the impression that anyone immersed in it would emerge covered in gold. Not that he needs such decoration, Elrond thought, watching the Man in the water.

"Do you plan on spending the entire day in the river?" he called out.

"Have a little pity, Master Elrond! Weeks' worth of marching dust takes time to remove!"

He laughed. Only Isildur could make his courtesy title sound like an affectionate jest--and only Isildur could take that liberty. For the moment, he was unwilling to examine the reasons behind that. There were so many other things to think about, after all.

Such as how fair the Númenorean appeared, bathing in the river. Sleek as one of the river otters, he seemed, completely at home. Was it possible to be envious of sunlight and water, that they touched what he wished was under his hands? He checked a sigh. Distracting himself from thoughts of Elendil's son with other thoughts of Elendil's son was proving a fool's exercise.

This once, just this once, enjoy what is before you, he told himself. There will be time enough for misery on the road to Mordor.

Other groups of men were scattered at a distance along the river bank. Their ranks had swelled on the journey East, and Elendil and Gil-Galad had called an early halt that day to better organize the forces. Some took advantage of the rare respite to catch up on sleep, some to practice. No few had cast fishing lines into the river, hoping for fresh fish for their evening meal. All around them, other members of the League made use of the time and daylight to tend to all the myriad chores that could not be seen to on the march.

Isildur ducked under the water, vanishing from sight. Elrond waited for him to re-surface, idly counting the slow beats of his own heart to track the time. When he realized he'd reached sixty, he sat straight up in alarm. Sharp eyes scanned the river, searching for a dark head. Had he been caught by a sudden swift current? Disturbed the nest of a water snake?

He got to his feet and started towards the water's edge himself, his heart beating nearly mortal-swift now, too fast to count the time. A shadow seemed to have spread over the water, dimming the light and dulling sound. And still no sign of Isildur. He'd just reached the shallows when Isildur burst from the water, throwing his head back and drawing in a great gasp of air.

"What were you doing?" he shouted.

Isildur lazily turned in the water, half-floating. "Getting soap out of my hair."

"By half-drowning yourself?"

Isildur frowned and started for the riverbank. "I was in no danger, Elrond. I've dived in deeper, stronger waters than this and returned unharmed."

Elrond drew in a slow breath to steady himself. He began to feel somewhat foolish. Isildur had safely steered his ship through the wild seas after the Drowning of Númenor. Surely he could manage here. But the sense of unease remained. Mariner's son Isildur might be, but Elrond knew this river held a danger to him. His foresight failed him past that point, however, refusing to
provide details. Frustrated, he stood awkwardly at the river's edge, not
wanting to go back until he saw the Man safely back on land.

Isildur waded back to the riverbank, shivering as the strengthening breeze blew over his wet skin. When he came near, Elrond held out a hand to help him onto the bank. Isildur gripped his forearm and climbed up out of the water. He stood, naked and dripping, wringing excess water from his hair. Then he spread out his discarded tunic and sat down to let the sun and breeze dry his skin. He leaned back, resting on his elbows, and let his head fall back. Elrond studied him from the corner of his eye.

Water beads rolled down Isildur's shoulders and arms, dripped from
his hair and beard. How would Isildur's skin change the taste of the
water? He could imagine those droplets cool and wet against his tongue,
the river-chilled flesh turning warm and flushed under his mouth. His blood stirred, a familiar warmth pooling in his groin. He drew in a slow breath, banishing the image from his mind, using his healer's lore to bring his body back under his control.

Isildur rolled onto his side and settled himself more comfortably, giving Elrond a fine view. O, Elbereth, this is not helping! He could see echoes of Isildur's distant Elven ancestry in the length of his bones, the sharpness of his features. Elrond entertained a brief fantasy of pinning the Man to the ground and stealing a kiss from that grinning mouth. And it would be theft, for Isildur was sworn to another.

"Cover yourself," Elrond chided, tossing the Man a dry tunic from the pile of clothing beside them, "lest one of your lieutenants happen by and faint from envy."

Isildur snorted with laughter, but pulled on the garment. With the tempting expanses of skin covered, Elrond found he could breath more easily. He was no callow youth, to stammer and blush when artlessly presented with what he desired. Yet this son of the Northern Kingdoms was denied him, and he must accept it.

All very noble...and yet here I am, having sought out his company. And I will do so again, I fear. The now-familiar sense of self-disgust rose up in him again. What has become of my pride? I know I may not have him, and yet I trail after him, like a dog seeking scraps.

If only this were a simple matter of lust. There were any number of free Men--and Elves!--who would welcome his advances. Yet no matter where he turned his eyes or his thoughts, he was always lured back to Isildur.

"What's this?"

Sorting through the clothing left on the riverbank, Isildur had discovered the wine bottle Elrond had accquired.

"Raiding the supply wagons?" Isildur teased, indicating the bottle. "The quartermaster will have your head."

"The quartermaster will not miss this one," Elrond assured him. He claimed the bottle and pulled out the stopper, releasing the fruity scent of the young wine. "The better vintages are set aside for the use of the healers, but this is drinkable at least."

He should not dally here on the riverside with a woman's husband, not under the eyes of the Man's father and his son. And he should not look at me with eyes as dark and deep as midnight, should not lie in a wanton sprawl as if to invite my touch. An invitation I may just take, for my will is only so strong.

"Are you going to share, Elrond, or am I to spend the afternoon watching you drink?"

His thoughts scattered--or perhaps joined together for the first time that day. Isildur grinned at him, patiently waiting for him to pass the bottle. He'd learned that Isildur prefered to set aside the usual formalities that directed his life while in the field. And when presented with a chance for even a small intimacy such as this, Elrond found he could not deny himself.

"Poor entertainment that would be," Elrond murmured, handing it over.

Isildur paused with the bottle at his lips and raised one dark brow. "From what I've heard tell, Elves and wine are a potent combination."

"And where have you heard such tales?" Elrond challenged.

The prince took a long swallow, then wiped his lips. "From my father," Isildur said blandly, handing back the bottle.

"Your--" Elrond stopped the words. He could well imagine how Elendil might have come by such knowledge--and they were not imaginings one wished to have of one's king. Nor, judging by the expression on Isildur's face, of one's father.

Does he disapprove of his father's choice? Elrond wondered in sudden
dismay. Anarion had expressed his disapproval at full volume when the High King had paid a visit to Emyn Beriad. It was one of a handful of times Elrond could remember Gil-Galad white-lipped with surpressed anger, and the first he had seen Elendil red with shame. All knew how close were Elendil's sons, even holding court side-by-side. Perhaps Isildur was merely quieter in his censure.

While he prefered to avoid direct contemplation of Gil-Galad's bed habits, it stemmed more from an awareness of privacy and rank. In all ways, it was a perfectly acceptable match: Elendil was a widower, his sons grown, with children of their own. And Elendil was one of the Faithful, delivered from the Drowning of Númenor and all but deposited at Gil-Galad's door. Gil-Galad had no wife, no pledged Elven lover. They were even of equal rank. No-one
was harmed or slighted by their pairing.

Though to hear Anarion, one would think to expect another breaking of the world because of it. Despite his efforts, his eyes must have betrayed some of his thoughts, for Isildur turned grave.

"My mother passed to Mandos and the realms beyond over a century ago," he said. "If my father has found a friend of his body and spirit, I will not speak against it, whatever form it takes. It dishonors my lady-mother's memory to dole out pain in her name--and it would pain my father to be parted from his friend."

The Man reclaimed the bottle. "My brother does not agree," he added unnecessarily, "but Anarion is...unschooled in some of the truths of life."

"How can he reach such an age and yet be so..." He hesitated, searching for the right word. Generally, it was not met to call one's ally's brother 'ignorant' to his face. He had dealt enough with those who whispered that his brother must have surely been mad, to forsake the eternal life and youth of the Eldar for the Gift of Men.

Isildur grimaced and looked out across the river, though Elrond had the sense he did not see it at all.

"Understand, Master Elrond...until the Fall, Anarion had been the younger son of a minor lord. Our grandsire still thrived as the lord of Andúnië, with our father as his heir. I am Elendil's heir, and the protectorate of Andúnië would have passed to my sons--and I had three of those! Years...decades could have passed with little change in that. So he built his own life, and none gainsaid him."

He took a quick swallow from the bottle, passed it back. Elrond drank himself, neat and quick, tasting where Isildur's mouth had been. It was a pale echo of the wine-flavored kiss he truly wanted...but it was what he could have.

"Then Númenor fell..." Isildur's voice roughened with grief. "We came here, to these shores. Our father established a new land for the Faithful--and Anarion became a ruler in his own right. And yet, I am still Elendil's heir, and will rule Gondor and Arnor from the day he lays down his life--the Valar grant that day be far off!"

Elrond stirred, dark memories flickering. Elros, his features still smooth and unlined, bidding him farewell just before he died. Died...leaving this world and Elrond behind, forever... Of all the thoughts that had passed through his mind that day, that one proved an ample check to his quiet longings. It was purest folly to long after mortals. /call him shieldbrother, and there my rights begin and end.

He brought his focus back to the present, turning Isildur's words over in his mind. Finding himself no closer to an explanation, he asked, "How does that explain his disrespect to a king, and to his own father?"

"It does not," Isildur admitted with a sigh, rubbing at his temple as if to ward off pain. "But I have tried to protect him all of his life. Though all else in our lives has changed beyond recognition, that has not, and will not. Not so long as I still have breath."

Isildur reached out, clasped his arm. "Be patient with him, shieldbrother."

"It is not my patience he tries," Elrond said, trying to meet his gaze, but Isildur was watching the river again.

"My lady-wife, who has wisdom in such matters, believes Anarion is over-stern with protocol because he so fears mistakes. And that, of course, just brings them about that much faster."

Elrond rested a hand on Isildur's, feeling the heavy callouses left by the sword and years aboard ship.

"You may have done your work too well, if he can look on love and judge it only by its outer form. Brothers...must make their own choices and bear the consequences."

As he must choose to bury his yearnings. Far better to have a trusted companion than to have one who viewed every word and gesture with suspicion.

Or so he tried to make himself believe.

If only his heart would heed...

[end]  2> an affectionate jest--and only Isildur could take that liberty. For
the moment, he was unwilling to examine the reasons behind that.
There were so many other things to think about, after all.

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