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Home is the Hunter
He knew the moment she entered the room. It was not her scent, nor the sound of her footsteps. Nothing so banal. The very air sang of her presence, the motes of dust gleamed, and her nearness resonated in his bones. A surge of longing, of love, of helpless desire made his hands shake.
He pretended, of course, that he did not know she was there. Hands flattened on the table, he continued to peruse the ancient scroll that had been retrieved from who-knew-where, by who-knew-whom, for who-knew-what reason, and then delivered by a passing merchant along with the wine barrels and flour.
His dark hair fell forward to conceal his face, masking it in shadow, but he could not help the rustle of his lichen-grey silk robes as his breath caught.
As she came up behind him, he caught the gleam of her moon-bright hair and inhaled the freshness of unfurling leaves after spring rain.
‘You do not fool me,’ she said, standing just far enough behind him to be out of reach, her voice deep and soft. ‘I can hear your heart beat faster.’
‘M’mm?’ he murmured, continuing the pretence. ‘What can I do for you, my beloved?’ His finger traced the worn letters, wrinkling his brow as if to suggest that she was interrupting his work.
She slipped under his arm, pressing herself against his lean body and stopping his breath. ‘Perhaps I can help you read this ...’ she pursed her lips as she read a few words, ‘... deeply fascinating document.’
‘Perhaps,’ Elrond’s lips quirked. ‘You might find something to interest you in these musings on the best way to flavour umble pie.’ He rolled the scroll easily and pointed to another passage. ‘Or how seek out information to extort the best service from your suppliers.’ He dropped his head to touch his cheek to her hair and whispered in her ear. ‘I would prefer not to show you some of the other observations detailed in here.’
‘Just because someone knows how to write, it does not mean that he should,’ Celebrían sniffed.
‘And some of the things recorded in this would have been far better left unwritten,’ her husband agreed, abandoning the scroll to wrap his arms around her. ‘Fortunately the author is long dead and we need not concern ourselves with his ... peculiarities.’
‘Good,’ she said, reaching back to stroke slim fingers across his face to tangle in her hair ‘because now you have nothing to distract you from the beauty of the morning.’
‘I have something far more beautiful and even more distracting than the morning before me.’ He could feel her pleasure as she arched back into him to ensure that his attention was drawn to her breasts. ‘Perhaps we should retire to our chambers.’
‘Where would be the fun in that?’ She grinned wickedly at him, enjoying the flush that coloured his pale cheeks. ‘When the morning is only outshone by the charms of your wife, the pleasure could surely be increased by combining them. Let us go outside – there is a grove I know that would welcome us.’
Elrond was yet to be convinced by his wife’s assertions that various parts of the valley welcomed them – and he was still more dubious about the different sites’ apparent desire to oversee their amorous interludes – but it was not only his body that was reduced to jelly by Celebrían’s very being and he found himself unable to disappoint her, allowing her to draw him from the stillness of the library, through the long windows and across the gardens.
‘My poor husband,’ she murmured, drawing his arm so close around her that it was hard for them to walk in a straight line. ‘An age of showing yourself to be a sensible, sober lore-master – then a few short years of marriage to me and you are quite undone.’
‘An age without a family to call my own – and now I am blessed with you. The sensible, sober lore-master can forget his dignity and reserve – I will not let him spoil this gift.’
She stopped, making him turn towards her to keep his footing, and looked up into his sea-grey eyes. ‘You deserve more,’ she said. ‘You have been alone too long.’
‘Not alone,’ he protested. ‘I have had many friends. There was Ereinion – he was family as well as being my king – and Glorfindel and ...’
‘You have lost too much and had too many people lean on you, while there have been far too few offering you support.’ She nodded decidedly. ‘I think it is time.’
‘Time?’ he said uncertainly. Who would have thought that this wisp of an elleth would be able to make him dance to her tune so easily? She was far more than the lovely maiden that Galadriel had brought to Imladris; deeper and wilder and more passionate. Her mother’s daughter, undoubtedly, but her father’s, too. Strong and wilful, generous and kind, understanding and intelligent. His wife, his Celebrían. He was still surprised that her parents had allowed him to approach her. How had they borne her decision to leave them for someone like him? ‘Time for what?’
‘Children, of course,’ she said briskly. ‘Not today,’ she reassured him as his mouth gaped, ‘not tomorrow, but soon.’
She started walking, trailing him by the hand up the faint path behind the mill, one used mainly by adventurous elflings and escaped goats. He determinedly kept up with her, but he was only too aware of the effort he put in to making it look easy. The rocks pushing out of the undergrowth were solid underfoot, but he carefully avoided the tumble of damp moss, not wanting to slip and find himself flat on his face at the feet of his beloved. She stopped at last, at the foot of a great oak that leaned out over the valley.
‘There,’ she announced. ‘Is it not beautiful?’
He found himself looking with the eye of a warrior – a good observation point. A place to see without being seen. Hard enough to reach that an enemy could not approach without being heard, but not one that lent itself to a quick withdrawal. Perhaps he should suggest to Glorfindel that a watcher ... He checked himself – it was too easy to revert to the mindset of those times. This was a different age. Peace had come – at a steep price, for certain, but giving them a respite. Peace enough for them to consider bringing new life to the valley.
‘Celebrían,’ he said, ‘I am uncertain... I have no experience of being part of a family. My own parents ... I do not remember them. My father left when I was so young ... My brother, too, so many years ago... And I did not know his offspring, not really. What if I cannot love a child as it deserves?’
‘Oh, Elrond!’ She embraced him gently and drew his head to hers, forehead to forehead. ‘You have such a caring soul and offer help freely to all who come your way. And do you not love me? You have had no difficulty in giving yourself to me. You will be a good father, one who will treasure all our children – no matter how annoying they will be.’ She kissed him softly. ‘You will indulge them and teach them – and leave it to me to be the disciplinarian.’
He was mildly offended by her assessment. ‘I have led armies,’ he pointed out. He was sure of his authority – he would not be diverted from his principles and his standards of conduct so easily.
‘Armies are not made up of children,’ she pointed out. ‘Children are much more difficult to manage.’
‘You are not encouraging me to undertake this project.’
Celebrían laughed. ‘You need to relax, my heart. Learn simply to be.’ Her kiss deepened, making him forget what they were discussing. ‘Learn to live and love,’ she murmured. She stepped backwards to a mossy bank studded with windflowers and harebells, drawing him down with her. ‘Be mine, my husband.’
By the time he could think again, the shadows had shifted to fill the valley with a warm golden light. Celebrían propped herself on one elbow and used her free hand to smooth Elrond’s hair. ‘It is home, is it not?’ she said contentedly. ‘Somewhere to belong.’
The thought seemed right. Home and family. A wife. Children. ‘You are right, my love,’ he mused. ‘This is my home.’ He tested the word. It felt strange on his tongue, as if it meant more than it had before. This was not just a place where all who were lost could find succour. A place where others could find a security he had not known. It was where he belonged, he and his family – here, the Last Homely House East of the Sea.
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