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The Lord of Imladris gazed down with the intent concentration he normally saved for untangling a particularly tricky passage of Quenya in some faded scroll – but, unlike on those quiet evenings in the library, he was now clad in nothing but a pair of bedraggled leggings, rolled up to his knees but still being tugged ever lower by the water.
Celebrían’s breath stilled with the intensity of her reaction to the sight of him. She would never grow used to it, she thought. Never. How could anybody respond so powerfully to the sheer existence of another?
His dark hair was sliding from the braid in which he had tried to trap it to hang rebelliously on either side of his pale face while his lean body tensed as he finally snatched a gleaming trout from the water. He looked up at her triumphantly only to have their lunch take advantage of his distraction to make a bid for freedom. The fish dived into the stream with a final insulting plop that suggested it had no intention of returning.
Celebrían collapsed into giggles at her husband’s expression of frustrated indignation. ‘Never mind,’ she told him consolingly. ‘We have more than enough.’
‘It is most unjust!’ Elrond waded from the stream. ‘I had him fair and square.’
‘I do not believe the fish was playing by the rules.’ Celebrían nodded, tucking her grin behind a sober countenance. ‘I am shocked. It should have known better’
Her husband placed his dripping hands on her bare arms, deliberately provocative, making her squeal and wriggle away from him. ‘Not even my wife desires my presence,’ he said plaintively, making her return as he knew it would.
‘You are wet,’ she complained, sliding her hands up over his biceps to stroke his shoulders, ‘and your hands are cold.’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘But I appreciate the view!’
Elrond laughed. ‘I had no idea you were so shallow,’ he teased. ‘An elf’s mind is so much more important than his body.’
‘Then, for all your reputed wisdom, you are just as lacking in true depth,’ she told him, with a small sniff of disdain. ‘I have seen the way you look at me!’
‘Who needs lunch anyway?’ Elrond’s hand smoothed over the light fabric of her gown to settle on her hip, while he buried the other in the silver of her hair.
Celebrían brushed the tips of her fingers over his ears, making him shiver, before clasping his head still as she sought his lips. ‘You do,’ she murmured, reluctantly detaching herself after a few moments to draw back.
Confused, Elrond blinked.
‘Need lunch,’ she expanded. ‘You are too thin, my heart – and I want to feed you until you have that look of cat-like content at times other than …’ She grinned wickedly as he blushed. Her husband could be, at times, amazingly prudish, preferring to keep the joy they took in each other as something unspoken. She, on the other hand, was nowhere near as circumspect – and had been somewhat surprised by her warrior husband’s reluctance to talk of … matters matrimonial.
‘I am content whenever we are together,’ he murmured.
‘I, too…’ She could not resist the urge to trail kisses up the faint silver scar that remained to remind her husband of a wound from a war that had taken place before she was born.
‘You are taking advantage of me, my lady,’ he whispered, his voice making her quiver. ‘While I am underclad – you are wearing decidedly too much.’
She deliberately ran the nails of her right hand over the sun-warmed skin of his back before sliding her hand under the waistband of his leggings. ‘I dispute that you are wearing too little, my heart,’ she retaliated. ‘I would say that you, too, are overdressed for the occasion.’
His muscles clenched under her touch, and she laughed as he groaned. ‘You are cruel!’
‘I am my parents’ daughter,’ she said. ‘You might as well surrender, Elrond Eärendilion – I am accustomed to getting what I want.’
‘Surrender?’ He gave up his attempt to find the laces that would give him access to the elleth beneath the gown and settled for bunching up the long skirt to get it out of his way. ‘I will never surrender.’ He bent his head to nibble her throat. ‘Victory is my goal, my lady.’
‘Victory?’ She pushed the leggings down over his narrow hips. ‘And yet you are no closer to success than you were, while I…’ She gasped as his hand found its way to its desired destination and rested her head back on his encircling arm, enabling him to turn his attentions to liberating her breasts from their fabric prison.
He laughed softly. ‘Where is your victory now, my silver queen?’
She drew him back, pulling him down to the mossy bank beneath the blossoming hawthorns. ‘Almost complete, my lord,’ she said.
‘And what of lunch? I thought you intended to feed me.’
‘I will see you fed.’ She pushed herself to her elbow and leaned on him so that he turned on his back, her willing prisoner. She bent over him, lowering herself slowly to touch her lips to his, teasing him with her tongue. ‘Are you still hungry?’ she asked, taking his hand and guiding it to the fastenings of her gown.
‘Ravenous,’ he told her, eyes gleaming as his hands busied themselves with disposing of all barriers between them. ‘But not for anything that might have emerged from the kitchens.’
She smiled as the soft breeze stirred her hair and brushed her skin. ‘I came from the kitchens, my lord,’ she told him. ‘Are you not hungry for me?’
His hands settled just above her hips, holding her in place. ‘I am unsure,’ he said. ‘I would need to taste first – to discover whether the reality lives up to the expectation.’ He stretched his head towards her, eager to carry out his suggestion, but Celebrían held herself just beyond his reach, her hair brushing teasingly across his face.
‘Perhaps we should not be doing this, my lord.’ She placed a hand on his chest to hold him away from her. ‘We came to picnic sedately by the water.’
‘Ah.’ Elrond subsided to the softness of the bank. He did not pretend to misunderstand. ‘Is this a test?’ His hands flattened against her waist. ‘Am I not forgiven?’
Celebrían looked at him. His grey eyes were soft, but she could see in them the beginning of the guard that held away everyone but her. She dropped her head to his and kissed him with such love that he relaxed instantly, opening to her with complete trust.
‘No forgiveness is needed,’ she murmured. ‘We are still learning what it is to be one – to bind our lives together.’ She smiled. ‘We will still be learning an age or more from now.’
He rolled her onto her back and supported himself on his elbows above her. ‘I would have you be happy always,’ he said fiercely. ‘No matter what the cost.’
She raised her hands to caress his face and push his hair behind his ears. ‘You cannot promise that,’ she said. ‘It is more than anyone can offer – but we have now.’
Their intimacy was not the wild passion she had expected from its beginning, but it was better than that – sweeter and gentler, a melding of more than bodies, more than renewal of their fëar’s bonding, more a dedication.
Celebrían held him to her like a treasure as he rested on her breast. She had not expected marriage to be like this. What she had expected, she was not quite sure –she felt she really should have learned more from observing her parents, who while certainly not mindlessly devoted to each other, were bound to their very core – but the strength of her love for Elrond simply continued to grow the more she knew about him. She smiled. Little things – like his unexpected modesty and his dislike of shellfish – offered odd insights to the elf who still yearned for the family he had barely known and ached for those who were lost to him.
She realised that he was watching her contentedly – the cat-like smile in evidence.
‘We should think about having children,’ she said, surprising herself as much as she did her husband.
Elrond lifted his head to study her. ‘Not just yet, I think,’ he remarked easily, as if the thought were no stranger to him. ‘We have not yet been wed a score of years. But soon, I think.’
She reached to draw him back down to her. ‘A son,’ she suggested, ‘with his adar’s eyes.’
‘A daughter,’ he retaliated, ‘with her naneth’s hair.’
‘Or both.’ She smiled reflectively. ‘You have spent too many years alone, my heart.’
She watched him. ‘Not alone, then,’ she conceded. ‘You have had friends in plenty - friends who love you dearly – but you have done without a family. If I have my way that it something you will no longer lack.’
He slid his free hand down to cover her belly. ‘You would give me a dozen elflings?’ he smiled.
‘Two dozen,’ she said, straight-faced. ‘Enough to keep you busy.’
He laughed. ‘I am told you were enough to keep your parents occupied all on your own.’
‘They lied,’ Celebrían informed him. ‘I was a perfect child.’
‘Perfect, indeed,’ he said, lowering his head to cover her mouth. ‘I can taste prevarication on your lips,’ he warned her. ‘I will have to seek the truth of the matter.’
Celebrían drew up one bare leg with tantalising slowness to caress his side, whilst at the same time rubbing feather light circles round his nipple. His kiss became more demanding as he lost himself in the pleasure of her touch, responding automatically to stimulate her most sensitive spots until they came together with a practised enthusiasm that delighted both of them.
‘I do not want to share you,’ Elrond said, as he rested, open and vulnerable, in her arms. ‘Not with two dozen elflings. The house would be overcrowded and you would have no time for me.’
‘You have a point.’ Celebrían combed her fingers through his hair sleepily, until she suddenly squirmed beneath him. He promptly lifted his weight from her and looked at her curiously. ‘Let us bathe in your cold stream and light a fire – and eat the food we brought.’ Her eyes sparkled. ‘We cannot take it back untouched – or we might have people thinking that we were … distracted.’
‘We were distracted,’ Elrond admitted, sitting back on his heels. ‘Go. I will light the fire to warm you when you come out.’
His wife pouted. ‘But I wanted to play in the water!’ She batted her eyelashes at him. ‘With my husband.’
‘You are insatiable!’ he protested, but his smile belied his words. ‘I guarantee you will appreciate the warmth of a fire once you have finished playing. It is freezing in there.’
By the time they emerged from the clear pool, laughing and shivering with cold, the afternoon had begun to wind down to evening and Celebrían happily added dry wood to build the fire up into a blaze. It was, indeed, chilly, but her skin glowed almost as warm as her spirit. Perfect afternoons, like this one, were precious and she was experienced enough to know that they did not come often.
They dressed before they were fully dry and wrapped themselves together in their blanket, sitting twined together, picking their favourites from the carefully-packed basket and feeding them to each other, young and carefree and at ease, as neither of them had been in centuries. Elrond enclosed his wife in his arms, holding her close to his heart. She had given him a great gift, he realised. Her love had healed something in him that he had not even realised needed mending and she was now the steel that held him together.
‘Never leave me,’ he said as Anor dipped behind the trees, leaving them in shadow.
‘I will not,’ she said. ‘I am with you always. Whatever might become of us in the centuries to come, whatever challenges we might face, I am with you always.’
He rested his cheek on her silver hair and held her close. He did not know what the future would bring them – and he did not know that he cared, really, just as long as they could face it together. His fingers sought her hand and laced with hers. She completed him – they belonged together in a way that he would never have believed possible.
Celebrían turned enough to look up at her husband’s face. He was brooding again, she thought. Too hurt to trust to fate or the Valar, he concealed the fear that every blessing would come with a sting, that every gift carried with it a doom. She raised their joined hands to her lips and kissed his fingers. ‘Whatever happens,’ she said, ‘however bad it might be, we will cope with it, because we have had now.’ His clasp tightened and she pressed their combined fist to her cheek. ‘You are mine, Elrond – and I will never let you go.’
He held her in his arms, the two of them together, and allowed her love to soak into him as the glow of the flames warmed their refuge and the stars gleamed down. ‘A dozen elflings, you say?’ he asked.
‘As many as you like,’ she promised.
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