Thrice for Honour 

By Tyellas

Summary: Troubled and young in the camp of the Sons of Fëanor , Elrond seeks to learn about ansereg - from the Elves who invented it, including Maedhros. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. You may wish to read the prologue, Starlight, first.

Story Warnings: Graphic BDSM, slash, graphic sex. Extra warning for part 3; if you want to be forewarned, go to the story notes at the end.

Disclaimer: These characters and Middle-Earth are the copyright of the Tolkien estate and this fan fiction is not meant to infringe on that copyright in any way.

Thanks to beta readers Suzana and Aayesha, and also to the reader Elflover, who inspired this story.


Part 1: The Teacher.

Praise the birch and birch's race, The teacher, the student, and the subject. From Eadig Beo Pu, translated from Olde English by J.R.R. Tolkien

Elrond, looking on his brother Elros, shook his head. "Yet again you do something before I do."

Elros laughed a little, awkward with relief. "We never plan it this way, do we?" Elros stood up from sitting on his narrow camp bed, and his head nearly brushed the ceiling of the twin brothers' tent. "Are you angry with me?"

"I had wondered why you were going out hunting so much," said Elrond, "and scarce ever coming back with anything." He had begun to smile, and the two brothers burst into young laughter together. Elrond shifted on his own camp bed, and Elros sat down again, next to him. Elrond promptly whacked him across the shoulder. "All the times I've had to hear your name praised for your efforts! And here you were meeting a mortal maiden in the woods!" 

Elros' face fell. "They talk about my going - do any suspect?" He grabbed his brother's shoulders. "Please! Do not tell anyone! I know not what they would do!"

"Are you sure it is safe?" asked Elrond, sternly.

"She knows my name, and I know hers, and that is all. I do my utmost to leave no tracks. I meet her near where her people are camping this winter, more than an hour's march from us." Seeing Elrond still wary, Elros added, "She would never betray me - she says she loves me."

Elrond's expression cleared. "Oh. That's all right, then." They were both young enough to take the dream of love at its face value, and to think, as they had heard in tales, that all lovers were true. Thinking of such tales, Elrond said, "Might Maglor mind? Elves are not supposed to take mortal lovers…." 

"Not supposed to, no. But it happens. As many other things do." Elros asked, "Does that even matter for us? Nobody can yet tell us if we are elves or mortals." Dressed in the gear of the Sons of Fëanor , the twins both looked elf-born, handsome, fine-cut faces winter-pale, sable-brown hair braided up against the wind and weather. But unlike the Elves, there was a fine sprinkling of dark hair on the backs of their hands, and creases enlivened their eyes when they frowned or smiled.

Elrond looked very elvish at that moment, still and thinking. Then, he said, "When you go out to her, if you want to keep it secret from others, it would help if you brought something back. Even some fish."

Elros grinned, relieved, and said, "I caught two hares last time. But I gave them to her." His grey eyes grew as distant as the moon. "She's so small and neat, a beautiful brown bird. Eyes soft as the dusk. I hope she kept some of the meat for herself. We met when she was foraging as well. I saw her scraping the snow away around a tree, and…"

As Elros spilled out all the tale of his first love, Elrond listened. The twins had been as similar in manners as they had been in looks - until recently. They had sprung into manhood quickly by the year-counts of the elves, and it had not been an easy time for them. Maglor had encouraged them to each be their own person, not wishing to see the siblings near-blended into one, as his own brothers, the twins Amrod and Amras, had become before their death in battle. Elrond had wondered if Elros had been avoiding him based on these words. It was a relief to learn that was not the cause. The first shadow of wisdom fell across his face; Elros was fully through the door to experiences he would never share with his twin. 

When Elros finished his rambling tale, he looked at Elrond, anxiously. "When will you see her again?" Elrond asked.

Elros lowered his voice. "I was going to go tonight, with the change of guard three hours before dawn, so that I might meet her in the morn for a time. Good plan?"

"Very clever."

Elros managed to be both flippant and awkward as he said, "If you want to bring someone back here…while I'm not around… you understand." He added, "If I have any luck I'll bring the game back here. I'll make sure you get first pick of whatever I bring." 

After Elros had left for a time, Elrond sat still, listening to the evening sounds of the camp. Elros' confession had stirred him in uncomfortable ways. The young woman he described as his little brown bird sounded attractive, but the idea of Elros in the act of lust - his mind veered away from it as if burned. Vaguely, he felt that the further away from his brother he kept in his own venturings, the better. 

However his body burned, Elrond's own heart was cool. There were few  elf-women in the camp of the Sons of Fëanor, and those unwed still saw the twin brothers as lads. The idea of courting any of them seemed impossible, and mimicking Elros by seeking a mortal lover was, again, too close to Elros. As a fox abandons prey it cannot catch, Elrond decided that he did not envy Elros his lover. He envied his brother's experience, the new swagger in his step. Elros knew he was a man. That was what Elrond wanted for himself. And in the camp of warriors, there was another path to that. 

Ansereg, the pride of soldiers and lords. In ansereg's rituals, elf-warriors endured pain, even torment, to harden themselves for the suffering of the field and to endure possible torture at the hands of Morgoth's servants. Its trials were meant to be hidden from the young. Nonetheless, Elrond and Elros had heard much about it, both the crisp explanations of their foster-parents and teachers, and far more intriguing, what they had overheard and glimpsed on their own. Elrond had listened to those tales more keenly than had Elros. 

Thinking about the dark whispers, Elrond's heart grew lighter. He stood up and peered outside the tent, letting his breath mist the air. Full night had fallen, and amidst its blackness, the stars cast faint silver light upon the snow. After standing in the tent's door for a time, thinking, he stepped out into the night's black and silver. He walked slowly, with a care for his footfalls on the fragile paths of snow. 

When Elrond came to Erestor, the older elf-man was tidying his work of scribing away as the evening turned dim. The camp could not spare fuel to light the loremaster's desk at night. In the shadows of the log room used by way of a library, Elrond realized he had not truly looked at Erestor for most of his life. The follower of Maglor had been the twins' teacher for years. Elrond pretended he had never seen the elf-man before; and what was there? Someone dark-haired, without the carved refinement of the Sons of Fëanor nor the uncanny sleekness of a wood-elf. Someone cold and a little tired. The loremaster was unremarkable-looking. Then an idea struck Erestor, and Elrond changed his mind. When awareness showed in his face, Erestor brightened, like a flat grey mere turning to living silver as the sun came out. 

The brothers loved Maglor greatly, but, after learning how Maglor had come to be their foster-father, were shy of troubling him, or lately, of seeming weak before him. Erestor, a teacher by nature, had been the shelter for their questions and fears. Elrond remembered what Erestor had said to him on guard a few weeks past. Who else in this camp, he thought, sees me as a full man? He entered the log room.

"Hullo! What brings you around? Not cold enough outside for you?" Erestor rubbed his hands together briskly to warm them. 

"I have a question. If it isn't proper to ask you, say the word and I'll never mention it again," said Elrond. He was surprised at how firm his own voice sounded; it was not how he felt. 

Erestor seemed pleased to be trusted. "It cannot be that bad. Go ahead. Ask me aught." 

"I want to try ansereg." There; the words were said, and only one of Erestor's brows was lifted. "I know you do it, sometimes." 

"I follow the way of Maedhros, yes," said Erestor. "And I do not rue it." His teacher's wryness returned to him as he added, "I suppose you've heard some tales; some cries? Seen some folk going on their way clad in black and silver?" Elrond nodded at each item. "Can you tell me how ansereg began, then?"

Elrond said, "As you said, it is Maedhros' way. He began it, but…I do not know more than that."

"More you shall have. If you say you wish for ansereg, you should know." Erestor's voice took on the cadence of a teller of tales. "All Elves know how Maedhros endured the torment of Morgoth, set to hang by one wrist up on the precipice of Thangorodrim. Many tales are told of his endurance, and of the faithful friend who saved him from the height by freeing his arm. The price of that freedom was a final torment, the severing of his hand.

When Maedhros' feet touched the earth again at last, we welcomed him with joy. Many took his return as a sign that, despite the fell Curse of Mandos, the Valar had not forsaken us. Yet he was not the same Maedhros we had lost; still the most beautiful of the Sons of Fëanor , still bright and fell, but weighed with strange wisdom and the burden of memory. He remembered horrors unspeakable, and for an elf, such memory is torment anew. None of those who follow him can name the hour when, wresting with his darkened mind, he turned to torment new to master those cruel memories."

"Who helped him?" Elrond asked.

"Maedhros does not wish that told. Later he shared his thought. He sought to strengthen himself thereby, lest he come to such torment again; to place the endurance of iron, of the gyve that bound him, in his veins." 

"And how did others come to - to…" Elrond did not know how to finish.

"Maedhros is much loved. Many in his van pitied his suffering; and many, too, suffered the same fear. The practice spread beyond Maedhros' chambers in reverence. Others sought the courage Maedhros gained, and the succour he knew." Erestor sighed. "We were not always at war and in flight, as we are now. The citadels of Hithlum were strong and fair; we had time to practice all the arts of Elvenhome, and to make new arts. It is said that as Morgoth corrupted elves into the foul orcs, so too our arts and laws elevated torment into a fair rite." 

"Every art has its critics. Some claimed it was too easy a cure for the guilt of the Kinslaying, or that the pain and suffering wrought thereby was wasteful, cruel beyond need. Others said that it opened the doors of the heart to…" Elrond hung with bated breath as Erestor paused, only to be puzzled when his teacher said, "Unnatural - no, unexpected bonds."

"Why?" Elrond asked.

Erestor lifted his hands. "I do not understand it myself, frankly. When I take or give a trial of ansereg, my mind is on pain or courage. Like many elf-men, I have done the three trials you mention. It is more the custom of this camp in particular, to be honest, that most warriors undergo three trials of ansereg to prove their worth. I turn to it anon during our long waits between battles, to keep my war-senses sharp, or to help a friend when asked." He looked hard in Elrond's eyes as he asked, "Would you say that you want to try ansereg again, knowing what I have told you?"

Elrond replied, "Yes. I want the three trials for honour. I am strong enough. Who do I ask, and how?"

Erestor tapped his lower lip, then said quietly, "I do not know what Maglor, your father and my lord, would think. You have not seen fifty turns of the seasons." 

Elrond was insistent. "That would make me of age by the reckoning of the Elves. But by mortal count, I am fully a man. I might bear sword and fall for my foster-father. You said so yourself." Inspiration struck. "Others ask you to aid in ansereg; would you do it for me?"

Erestor's first, unguarded reaction was a flash of pride across his face. "Well, lad - Elrond. It is not proper if I am your teacher." 

Erestor had taught him to read the expressions of others, and so he read Erestor now. Under Erestor's forced sternness, the delight at being asked still glowed. Elrond's sudden hunger silvered his tongue. "You are not showing me my letters now. I know all loremasters are students for life. Whether I have long years or a mortal death, you will always have my respect, and I will always seek your counsel - but are you my teacher as you were when I was a boy?" 

"You have me, there," said Erestor. He smiled, slowly, and touched Elrond's chest, over his heart. "And you have me here, too. But more, the way you ask me shows…" He gave Elrond a deep look. "Your quality. You are the kin of kings, and the foster-son of our Lord and Lady here. All right, then; you shall have your first taste of ansereg from me. I shall do my best for you."

Elrond felt the same. Eager and nervous, he asked, "Can we do it tonight? Late towards dawn? Elros will go out to hunt, so our tent-chamber will be free."

Erestor's smile was tolerant. "If I say no, I do not think you will have any other thought in your head until we do. So we might as well. I remember what it was to be young! Clear what space you may and array yourself, then." 

"In black and silver garb, you mean?" Erestor nodded.

Elrond had to admit, "I don't have anything - the right colour." 

Erestor turned to his modest bundle of goods, stowed to one side of the library. He took out a small roll of black fabric; it was made of a heavy silk, brocaded with a glint of silver, a scrap of lost luxuries. "That's all you'll need for this first time. Wear it under your clothes, and I will come to you tonight." 

Elrond unrolled it, and felt his face turn hot. It was a loincloth. 


Following their foster-father's way, the twin brothers rarely claimed any charcoal to light their tent's brazier. Elrond took some that night, and lit a few embers. As he stoked the fire, all the whispers he had heard about ansereg came back to him; he had heard of knives, fire, a terrible trial where a warrior was hung from a high frame by chains linked to hooks in his flesh. More, it had come to him what Erestor might have meant by the discreet words "unexpected bonds." Passions between elf-men, outside the laws and customs of elvish marriage, were said to spark at times during a trial of ansereg. Erestor seemed to find this perplexing, but it seemed very old-fashioned of him. There were more than a few in the camp who turned to such consolations, ansereg or no. Thinking about how such a thing might be only made him more nervous. He continued to shift belongings in the tent-room until Erestor arrived. 

With unwonted formality, Erestor bowed to him upon entering the tent. Sombre, he said, "I must array some things. Can you step to the side?" When Elrond did, Erestor rolled out something that he bore, a worked and painted canvas. Its square was as wide as a man's spread arms, and marked with a figured circle. Before Elrond could admire it, Erestor laid it on the tent's floor. "You shall stand here," he said, gesturing to the canvas.

Elrond, startled, looked at the dark fabric and its intricate silver-gilt paint. "Oh, I couldn't! My feet-"

"There are several ways to show you endure the trial. The commonest is to grasp chains overhead, but I do not own such, nor could I find them to borrow this night. Another way is to have you stay within a circle, or stay silent. You may be put to one or more such ways in a trial."

Elrond slipped off his muddy footgear and hose before stepping onto the canvas, feeling it smooth and slick. "So I am craven if I leave the circle," he said. 

"Not craven. But tried beyond your limit." Erestor looked kindly as he said, "Ansereg is not meant to break you down, but to build you up. If you cannot bear something, if it truly is beyond your enduring, you can bow out. It happens sometimes; there is no dishonour to it."

Not believing him, Elrond said, "But it's better to finish."

"Of course!" Erestor turned aside to unpack the rest of what he carried onto one of the camp beds. What he had bewildered Elrond further. Instead of weapons, Elrond had brought everyday items; rope dyed dark, a covered dish, a green birch branch, peeled as if for basket-making, and what seemed a bunch of twigs fit to sweep the camp-ground. There was a dark bundle or two, their mystery more what Elrond had expected.

Done with this, Erestor paused, looking meditatively on his tools. He started when Elrond asked, "When shall we begin?"

"The trial does not start until you are ready. Do you wish to talk more?"

Elrond shook his head. "Should I…." He gestured shyly at his clothing. When Erestor signalled in agreement, he turned away and disrobed. Done, he said, "So. I am ready." Clad only in the loincloth, led by what he had pictured for that hour, he brushed his grouped braids behind his neck and knelt in the midst of the circle.

That, alone, changed everything. Elrond found himself looking up as Erestor took off his stained sage-green cloak. Erestor's black and silver tunic, with his height viewed from kneeling, gave him sombre authority. Elrond's eyes were directly at the level of the loremaster's hands, hands he knew were as quick with fine knives as they were with quill-pens. He turned his face up, and saw that Erestor had closed his grey eyes in a moment's thought. When he opened them, they seemed more remote, as if his blood was colder. His voice was musical and chill. A thrill ran through Elrond when Erestor said, "You say you are ready. Then be you bound by this hour. For your trial has begun."

Elrond's hands sweated, his own blood felt hot in his veins; the trial begun! Every move of Erestor's was important, now. Erestor took up the first item from the bed, the dark cords. 

"Hold out your hands to me," Erestor said. Elrond obeyed, and the standing elf bound his two wrists together closely. The knot sealed, Elrond was told, "Try and move your arms. Go on." Elrond pulled apart, up, down; the bond stayed true. 

Elrond started at a touch on his chin; Erestor was tilting his head up gently. Their eyes met. "Nothing in the circle of ansereg is for naught. The first thing the orcs do to captives is to bind them, that they do not lose their prizes. This alone can cow the weak of spirit." Elrond nodded. "Take it all in; seal what you endure in your memory. If ever you have to endure, the memory will aid you." Silently, Elrond made his back straighter as he knelt, and earned a grim smile from Erestor for it.

Erestor leaned in again, reaching down to the young fellow's chest. Elrond breathed in wonder as the elf-man brushed through the veil of hair on his chest to touch a nipple; then gasped in pain as the flesh was twisted sharply. Thoughtless, he rocked back, but Erestor's pinch stayed firm. "This is nothing. Nothing," said Erestor. Pain jumped up again as Erestor let go to take something out of a pocket, a pair of clamps joined with braided red cord. When he bent to Elrond once more, Elrond stiffened. The pain of having both his nipples bitten by the metal grips was, as Erestor had promised, even more; he writhed, half-leaning back on the canvas, for an instant. Then he recovered himself and shuffled forwards, to stay in the circle.

When Erestor took them off, he protested, "I could have - ahh! - worn them longer."

"I gathered. But it pained you when I removed them, yes? This takes the pain higher yet." Erestor replaced the clamps, angling them differently. The sore flesh shot needle-lines of agony through him, sending him arcing back again, teeth gritted. Something about the pain reached into his groin.

This time, Erestor let him collect himself. Elrond looked up and saw Erestor calm, face impassive but haunted by the light of inspiration that gave him his appeal. "Stay exactly where you are. You will be hurt, in a moment." Elrond swallowed, for Erestor had turned to unwrap one of the dark bundles. 

From it, Erestor withdrew something precious in the winter camp; a tall, slender candle, its creamy length partly burned down. Elrond swallowed again as he watched the candle being lit at the brazier. Erestor seemed intent on watching its flame for a moment, giving Elrond time to panic. What intricate torture was planned, that Erestor wanted the candle's focused light? Maybe one of the other bundles held a knife. Or two knives. Or -- 

Erestor now stood before his postulant again, eyes shadowed beyond reading as he still watched the flame. He tilted it, slightly; and Elrond's rough cry cut the smoky air. A scorching rain of wax, unexpected, felt like it pelted fire on Elrond's skin. His arms twisted tight against his bondage. The second dash of wax was even hotter, splattering over his right shoulder and arm. Elrond managed to stifle his pain into something like a grunt. The third time, along his left, only made him flinch because some of the wax fell on his tender stomach, and he was silent.

"Sit up straight," said Erestor. Surprised at how he shook, Elrond forced his muscles still, then did so, taking deep breaths, determined to let Erestor burn him with all of the candle if need be. Instead of tilting it for wax, Erestor brought the flame close, close enough that he could feel its stabbing heat. "Do not move."

Elrond locked his spine into place as the flame came nigh his chest, reminding himself that it as but a candle's light, and little to fear. Still, his hands sweated, for a spot of pure heat-pain followed that light over his flesh. He inhaled to feel a burning frizzle on his skin as some of his chest hair caught and smouldered.

Erestor drew the taper back with a curse, blowing it out, face sharply dismayed. He patted Elrond's chest, and muttered, half to himself, "Never had that happen before." He set the candle aside and, swiftly, lifted the covered dish, turning fast with it. 

Elrond grunted again to feel more evil rain on his skin, locking all his joints to stay still through more pain - but his eyes widened.

"It's cold!" he cried.

"Ice." Close again, Erestor slid a glassy chunk of ice over him, sending his skin to shivering while soothing the pink burns. With the contrast between keen heat and cold, and the warm brushes with Erestor's hands, his hide had never been so alive before. When the last sliver of ice had melted, Erestor said, "Stand up fully, and turn your back to me." 

Elrond did so in a hurry, and not simply to show his willingness. The tightness that had taken his groin when Erestor twisted his nipples was dismayingly focused, now; his phallus was hard. Arching forwards to bring his bound hands in front of his crotch, he cursed himself for not fastening the loincloth tighter, a young man's trick against ungovernable lust. But all he had pictured from ansereg was agony, not the strange life that filled him along with the bursts of pain. He was grateful that Erestor had tied his hands in front of him, grateful to turn his shame away from Erestor, whose appeal became stronger by the minute. 

As if Erestor knew it would torment him by pleasure, his mentor ran his hands along his back, and the touch was gentle. "You are thin, this winter," Elrond heard him sigh. "We all are," Erestor added, sending a warm stroke down Elrond's spine. 

Elrond gritted his teeth as his cock tightened further. Before thinking, he muttered, "Orcs wouldn't do that." 

Erestor laughed at that impudence, then gave Elrond's shoulder-blade a smack. "That's true. Oh, that's true. But they would do this." Elrond heard a swish cut the air, and it was long before he heard that sound again without fear. For it was the herald of a lightning slash of pain across his shoulders, and Elrond's cry was near a scream. The air was cut again, and he flinched, anticipating.

"This is but one branch of the birch, the loremaster's tree. Hearken to what it has to teach you!" The green wood snapped against Elrond's skin again, and he arced forwards in agony, catching himself within the circle in time. 

Erestor dragged him back by his braids. "Don't run away from it, lad. Tell me how it feels." Another crack of the green birch followed that, this one low across his arse. 

"It's just pain! It cuts - it stings." Elrond paused. "And afterwards, it feels more…something," he said.

"Try again," Erestor barked, and dealt out another stroke.

After a hiss of torment, Elrond's head cleared; the strike had been no worse than the one before.

"It feels like lightning looks," he said.

Erestor brushed Elrond's braids forwards. "Well said. I am going to give you twelve strokes of another birch, now. Stand firm." Elrond heard the light branch flung aside, followed by the rattle of the grouped twigs he had seen before. The first stroke of the new birch landed against his arse, and through the sting, he felt his cock jump. 

Elrond had been aware of his own body before, in sun and water, and seeking a boy's release from young lust. What Erestor was giving him, fire and ice and pure intensity, wrapped all of that up together, and he could not will himself limp again. The birch stung, and stung again, like a hive of hornets, even as his hips rocked with secret pleasure. The loincloth, loose before, was tight now, and he nearly lost himself to think that Erestor's own cock had rested inside that same fabric. 

Thus absorbed, he missed it that Erestor had finished the twelve strikes, and paused for a moment, considering. "Six more," Erestor said, and struck again. Elrond's knees flexed forwards. He took it, bent between pain and pleasure, drawn tense and enduring them both. 

"That's that, then; both branch and birch break on your hard young back," Erestor said. More formally, he intoned, "Turn about, Elrond. For your trial is borne."

Elrond stayed frozen, trying to think what to do about his hard young front. He turned around, then dropped to his knees, holding his bound hands over his hardness. Elrond felt his heart in his throat as he gazed directly at Erestor. He could tell how strong the elf-man's thighs were beneath the fine black wool tunic, and he looked at his teacher's hands abashed at his own hunger for their touch. Realizing that Erestor was looking at him surprised, he asked, "What do people do afterwards?" 

"What do you think should be done?" said Erestor. 

Elrond did the first thing that came to his mind.

"Thank you," he said, taking up and kissing Erestor's hand. He felt himself grow even stiffer as his lips ran across the knowing hand that had tormented him. 

Erestor took his hand away, not unkindly; he caressed Elrond's face. Elrond reached up to clasp the hand in both his bound ones, looking at Erestor beseechingly.

Erestor laughed, an uneasy sound, and said, "I thought you would ask to have your hands untied, first. Lift your arms?"

Obedient, Elrond held out his hands, and turned his face away, knowing his erectness was exposed.

Erestor freed him, and spoke as he did so. "Inspiring, eh? Some find it so."

Through fast breath, Elrond asked, "Do you?"

"Some of our new ways are not for me; I abide by the laws - and loves - of old." Erestor turned away, folding the cords. "I know that there are first times and first times. I can help you with one and feel honourable. But not with the other."

Elrond digested this, feeling his heart turn grey. At least it made his cock go half-lax again. "All I asked for was a trial of ansereg," he muttered. It came to him that this was one more thing to be endured from the trial, and his courage returned to him. "I asked for it, and you gave it to me; and I thank you."

Erestor turned back again, evidently relieved. "And I am twice honoured. Maybe you are cold. Wrap up in this." Elrond leaned into it as Erestor draped a blanket around his shoulders. Only the wool touched his skin, not the elf-man's hands. He wrapped himself up, grateful to hide his remaining arousal. 

Erestor unwrapped another one of his mysterious packages, but it held only slips of dried meat. He proffered it to Elrond, who took a piece and began to chew, mechanically at first, then with relish, surprised at his own hunger. Dried meat took some work to gnaw through. Erestor ate as well, and they sat for a time in companionable silence.

Erestor's usual warm expression had returned to him. After the elf-man had finished a tough mouthful, he swallowed and said, "You did not just bear it; you took it exceeding well, even considering that this was your first time."

"Truly?" said Elrond, smiling for the first time since the trial was done. They talked for a time about what had passed, which parts had been hardest and easiest for Elrond, how his marks felt as he sat. Their speech finished the work that the bit of food had begun, and Elrond relaxed fully.

That lasted until Erestor said, "We must make sure to surprise you more, next time. You ought to have a trial more fitting to what you may bear."

"How?" Elrond asked, shifting his wrap to hide the stirrings he felt at the thought of next time. Even as desire flickered, relief flooded him, that Erestor had not thought him craven nor unworthy, that the second trial would come.

"You'll see."

They both turned their heads towards a shout outside. Erestor stood and peered outside the tent's flap; at the cold air, Elrond bundled himself up in earnest, and reached for his clothes.

Erestor said, "Hark to that! They cry that someone has brought back a roe-deer from his night's hunt. Some luck at last. Stand so I can clear the canvas away?"

Part 2: The Comrades.

   "Body and spirit I surrendered whole To harsh instructors - and received a soul…" From Epitaphs of the War, R. Kipling

Two days later, Elrond stared at Erestor, appalled. Erestor had just told him that he had made arrangements for Elrond's second trial of ansereg. Elrond's first trial had proved him to himself, yes, and he had been eager to prove himself to others with his second one. He had dreamed of kneeling proudly before Erestor with an audience, the witnesses called seconds often called to such trials. What Erestor proposed was very different. "You would have me take my second trial of ansereg not from you, but from Maedhros' esquire? And two of the smiths?" cried Elrond.

Erestor looked taken aback. "Rodendil is as fine as you can be at this art. He has practiced ansereg from its very beginning!" It was often said of a good servant that they were a lord's right hand. Rodendil took this literally. He was ever at Maedhros' side, discreetly aiding Maedhros in many a way. The elf himself said proudly he never refused his lord's command. Thus, it was whispered, it might have been Rodendil who first aided Maedhros when he wished to try himself, to see if he might endure pain anew after his sufferings upon Thangorodrim; and from this ansereg had grown.

Elrond had not been able to discover if this meant Maedhros and Rodendil were or had ever been lovers. There was a tale contrary to that as well, but the whispers about Maedhros and their slain High King, Fingon, were quieter. Whatever Fingon had been to Maedhros, it was Rodendil who had Elrond's fascination at that moment.

"The smiths…" Elrond shivered. Of all the followers of the Sons of Fëanor , smiths and crafters felt themselves harder under the Oath than many others. They sympathized with Fëanor 's pain at losing the Silmarils, work of his hands. After war and loss, they were grown to be hard folk. Most of them were hotly devoted to Maedhros. Some of them were haggard ex-thralls or silent outlaws from other elf-peoples, some rank regained by their art. And, since the battle of Eglarest, they were the ones who branded any newcomers to the followers of Maedhros and Maglor.

"The smiths stand as seconds. They keep many secrets, you know." Elrond recognized Erestor's pause, one of those he used as a teacher seeking patience or an explanation. "I didn't think you asked me for this to be petted by your teacher, lad. I am fond of you. I would not send you to those who would break you. I did my best for you - and, once you got used to me, I scarcely made you blink. I think you can take what they can give and more." 

Elrond said, nearly pleading, "I thought you were terrible and splendid! If I - "

As often happened in the close camp, they were interrupted by a rap at the door of the log-room library.

Elrond heard a woman's voice, sharp yet fluid, asking if Erestor was ready to join her. He recognized the tones of one of the wood-elves who had joined the camp recently. Erestor called out that he was at important business and would be free soon. Elrond had more of a mind for Erestor's expressions after they had shared ansereg, and his heart both dipped and soared. Erestor had not looked so at him, ever - but to be considered important business was a first.

Erestor turned back to him. "Apologies. You were saying…?"

Elrond tried to respond with the understanding gravity of someone important. "If I was taking ansereg with Maedhros himself, I would not forget that you were my first." He stepped back and bowed with respectful distance, then asked, "Did Rodendil say when?" 



At first, Elrond was pleased when he went for his second trial. Rodendil met him in a tent that, with someone's belongings rolled to the side, was often used for ansereg. Two chains hung from the round space's roof, waiting for his hands. Just as Erestor had made him stay within a small circle to show he took the trial's pain, here he would clasp the chains. Elrond was glad that Erestor had loaned him his black tunic with silver trim, for both Rodendil and the smiths were fully garbed in black and silver.

Rodendil was the shortest one present, but Elrond thought him the fairest, with his dark russet hair and knowing eyes. Both the smiths, supervising the trial, stood together at one side of the tent, and their eyes seemed colder than usual. Still, Rodendil gave Elrond a merry greeting, as he usually did. "Well met, lad. So I hear you tired Erestor out, yes? Then you've come to the right place!" The smiths broke their reserve to smile at that. 

Rodendil folded his arms and, smiling yet, asked, "Before we begin, tell me what Erestor dealt out to you. He said little." Elrond described what he had endured, the clamps, wax, and ice, and the strokes of the birch. Rodendil raised an eyebrow. "And… naught else?"

Something about Rodendil's tone made Elrond uncertain. Was there an entendre in the words, or was it only his own fevered blood? He kept his reply safe.

"Well, Erestor used two different birches; a wooden switch and, you know, the bundle of the fine branches, the sort that sting." 

"Switch and birch," muttered Rodendil. "Suitable, for a first trial."

One of the smiths, with cropped dark hair, asked, "And you carry how many years?"

Elrond took a deep breath; for nobody had known how old Elros and Elrond had been when, as toddling children, they had been swept out of the sack of Eglarest and fostered by those who had destroyed that haven. "A good guess is twenty-five turns of the seasons." The tall smith still looked sceptical, so Elrond added, "I am ready to begin the trial as you bid."

Rodendil said, "Fair spoken. You have told me all I need know, so we will not tarry further. Strip off and take up those chains."

One of the seconds also tended a brazier that burned with uncanny brightness, lighting the space.

As Elrond disrobed down to the black loincloth, there was no hiding the way in which he differed from the elves of the camp. He and Elros had both grown very modest since they reached a warrior's height, for their chest and arms had grown veiled in short dark hair, like that of mortal men. Erestor had tactfully said nothing about this during ansereg with Elrond. When undressed, Elrond took up the chains and stared straight ahead. From the corner of his eye, he could see both the smiths looking him up and down as if they had never seen such before.

The one who had asked his age murmured, "Well, that settles that. I thought him far too young, but if this is what his blood brings him to…I suppose it is all right." 

Elrond turned and saw the other smith, whose grey eyes were pale and opaque, as he said, "I told you. This but proves it." He raised his voice. "Here, Rodendil, I thought we'd have a bit of new venison tonight, but this lad's more like a boar. All bristles!" Elrond winced, but then the smith turned his tongue against Rodendil. "Reminds me of something. The last time I saw you as eager as you are tonight was when we caught that great boar, and you were first in line for a share of the roasted haunch."

Rodendil stayed good-humoured as he replied, "I know what's good! You were late and had to make do with the stew. It was fortunate for you that it had the pizzle in it." The three elf-men all laughed, accepting the round of mockery. 

Rodendil turned to Elrond, silent between the chains. "We will begin when you are ready," he said, kind even as he eyed the young man keenly.

"I suppose my haunches are ready to be carved up," Elrond replied, winning a long laugh from Rodendil.

When Rodendil recovered himself, he stood directly before Elrond, less than an arm's length away. "Now I know that tonight will be fine. Truly, are you ready?" 

Elrond looked down at Rodendil, thinking that he seemed even less intimidating than Erestor had been, at first, and wondered what the elf-man concealed. "Yes," he said. Rodendil's eyes flicked to the seconds, who both nodded. One of them said, "Then the trial is begun."

With his open hand, Rodendil whacked Elrond hard across his face.

Elrond staggered with a shout, and the chains jingled. Rodendil backhanded the other side of his face, then shoved him in the center of his chest. "My mirth is done, then. You are certain?" 

Elrond caught a quick glance of Rodendil's face, changed and hard in an instant, like a hunting hound turned savage as a wolf, and he was afraid. But around the hot savour of blood running inside his mouth, Elrond gasped, again, "Yes." 

He was shoved again for his trouble. "See here! You ought to call the one who stands before you in ansereg your lord." As Erestor had done, Rodendil seized his nipples and twisted, making him grimace. "It matters not who you are outside this circle, that's how it is in here, in ansereg. Hai, seconds!" Rodendil called. "Tell this lad more laws that he may follow them!"

The first smith's voice was strangely thick as he spoke. "In ansereg's circle, he is your lord. Endure for him as you would for the one who has your fealty. He'll make you show it! Oh, yes, our Rodendil will make you show it."

The other smith was more placid. "Keep yourself calm to go through the pain. You can kneel and still hold the chains, do not forget. Remember to breathe." 

Rodendil tapped his fine mouth thoughtfully. "I have advice for you as well; do your utmost not to scream. It is shameful, I think, to hear a man scream like a girl being ravished. And it rouses the rest of the camp. In fact, I may gag you."

Hastily, Elrond said, "I won't scream, my lord."

"That is what you say now." With a swift turn of his wrist, Rodendil sharpened the pinch around one nipple again. Elrond stayed silent, though the entire side of his torso was drawn up in agony. This little test passed, he was released. Rodendil stood back with his hands on his hips. "You saw Laldir get branded, yes?" 

"Who?" Elrond gasped.

"He who was once a thrall." 

"Oh. Yes. My lord." 

Rodendil's eyes bored up into his while Rodendil's hands tortured the points of his chest. "What do you think they did to him? What did he have to endure?"

The ex-thrall's twisted, deformed body flashed in Elrond's memory, and he shuddered, reminded of why the Elves needed to endure torment. "What you do to me now, but worse by a thousand fold, my lord," Elrond whispered.

Rodendil's nails dug into him. "Name to me how you think he was tormented."

"With fire." 

Rodendil's expression softened. "We won't do that to you. And?"

"With beatings, probably."

Sudden and fluid, Rodendil unbuckled and whipped off his long belt. He doubled the belt in his hands and snapped it, the leather's crack loud as a branch breaking under frost. "That, we'll do. Turn about!"

Elrond turned, twisting the chains above him, and choked down a cry as the belt hit his shoulders. Now he knew why Erestor had named himself too gentle to Elrond. 

After the first untrammelled blow, Rodendil struck slowly, painting strikes up and down Elrond's back and arse. Elrond swayed forwards as he stood, forcing himself to draw breaths into his belaboured ribcage, feeling his body begin the same response to fear and pain and touch as before. Elrond had fastened the loincloth well tight this time, and though he felt his cock swell against it, it was bent down. He ceased to fret about this after a few moments, for the pain soon increased far beyond what gave mere titillation.

Rodendil's strikes thudded hard and flat, sinking through Elrond's flesh to make his bones ache. He was struck sharper and harder each time, blows coming faster, raining without cease. Burned and hammered, Elrond arched his long, lean body, now writhing away, trying to flee what his mind bade him endure, then forcing himself still again. His sweating hands slid halfway down the chains, as if his lowered arms might shield his sides from the belt's licking and snapping, the torment grown hot as a dragon's tongue.

When the strikes stopped for an instant, Elrond gulped the air, seeing Rodendil stepping in front of him again. Without saying anything, Rodendil turned himself sideways, and raised his arm again. Elrond stood still, sucking in his stomach. The belt flew quicker than sight, to hammer the front of one of his thighs. He jumped back, with a helpless moan at the agony of it. His other leg was struck, and again he locked himself in place, pressing his eyes shut against rising tears. But it hit him like a lightning-bolt that maybe this pain was worse because Erestor had not struck him so, and that this was how endurance grew. 

Rodendil was taking his time. Between the strikes Elrond listened with all his being, hearing charcoal crackle, one of the seconds breathing hard, and then a tiny click of metal. Then another. Elrond opened his eyes and blinked away tears of pain to see a sudden brightness before him. Rodendil, standing there, held up the wide, curved blade of a knife. Elrond had been taught about knives, both weapons and tools, and he forgot to breathe as he recognized a skinning knife. 

Terror held him still as Rodendil brought the blade to Elrond's flesh. The blade coursed along him, cool at first, then poking, scratching, sending a fine spray of hair flying as Rodendil scraped it fast along his skin. Elrond breathed not, forgetting the watching smiths, waiting for the cut. The only thing he could do was knot the chains in his fingers. The blade paused in a terrible place, along his bare gut. Ansereg did not wound beyond what would heal, but from what Erestor had taught him of healing arts, this left much leeway for damage. 

Elrond lifted his eyes from the knife to look at Rodendil. They locked eyes. Elrond breathed a touch, and deliberately gripped a little higher along the chains. Rodendil's lips parted, and he slid the knife further down Elrond's body, to rest against the silk on his loins. 

Rodendil took the knife away and cupped Elrond's half-erection. Elrond turned his face away as that flesh sprang to full life. The smiths were watching, seemingly impassive as the Valar. "Now I know why Erestor sent you hither." Rodendil leaned in to whisper, "You are like me." He took the handful of engorged flesh and, cherishing yet sadistic, twisted it painfully. Elrond arched back, clamping his throat shut to stifle a howl. Rodendil released him, and he still sprang hard. As Elrond turned his face away from the seconds, the knife's chill and prick ran along his thighs. Rodendil leaned low, following the knife closely. Elrond felt his hot breath, and Rodendil's fingers stroking after the blade's scratches.

One of the seconds spoke. "Enough toying, Rodendil. This is to try and teach, not for your sport." 

Rodendil lifted the knife and stood. "Come then, stand one to each side. I will need you in a moment."

The three hemmed him in closely. "Whatever we do, do not try to flee us; if you lose your grip on the chains, your voice will let us know if you take the trial well." Rodendil slid the knife along Elrond's upper chest. "Do you take my meaning?" Affrighted by the substantial presence on each side, feeling them waiting, Elrond nodded. Rodendil slid his knife back into its sheath again, and Elrond heard the click of Rodendil's belt once more. "Then now!"

Elrond yelped - for each of the smiths bent low and grabbed one of Elrond's ankles. Before he could blink, he was hoisted upside-down, each ankle clamped in two strong hands. He writhed like a fish for a moment, then threw his hands to the floor to balance himself. Just as he had a touch of equilibrium, Rodendil's belt cut across his arse, again and again.

This second beating was pure confusion, pain and dizziness and fear, helpless in and beneath their hands. He could not count the minutes they held him so, vulnerable as a child to endure the torments that might befall an ill-fated warrior. It seemed both excruciatingly long and surprisingly short before he heard Rodendil say, "All right." At that, the smiths lowered him to the floor, gently, so that he lay upon his aching back. When they released him, Elrond scrambled up, grabbing the chains as soon as he could. With a hint of mirth and malice in his voice, Rodendil asked the seconds, "He made much noise. Did he scream, fellows?" 

One of the smiths said, "It was close, once or twice, but I do not think so." 

"Perhaps next time, eh?" said Rodendil, his good nature returning. Elrond, reeling at the thought, was startled to hear the hour's master say, "The trial is borne." 

One of the smiths repeated, "Yes; the trial is borne."

Elrond had not released the chains before the other smith gave him a brotherly whack between the shoulders and said, "Well done." 

"Yes, very well," said Rodendil. "Have a care for your back. You will be much bruised, and there is some bleeding."

"Truly?" Elrond said, twisting to look behind him, and there was a laugh anew for his eagerness. 

"I think we all owe Erestor a favour this night. It heartens us all to have such trials go well." Rodendil turned to the seconds. "No need to tarry. If you judge all well, I shall help our young boar get dressed." 

One of the smiths quipped, "Eventually," and the other smiled knowingly. They left together, with a bow that might have been for Rodendil and might have been for both of them.

Rodendil handed Elrond his breeches first, not without shaking out their creases and smoothing the legs. As Elrond straightened up after stepping into them, he heard Rodendil ask smoothly, "Grown to manhood so soon. Have you ever made love?" There seemed to be no right answer to that question. Elrond was uncertain as to whether this was more teasing, until Rodendil stepped close beside him, lips brushing against his cheek, where he had been slapped before. He was speechless as Rodendil whispered, "If you haven't, don't wait. Don't go to the sword without having known it. Give yourself a time or two to remember." Still uncertain, Elrond drew back. 

Rodendil saw his hesitation and smiled his foxy smile again. "I know that glance; Elves are supposed to be continent, you think. Some laws of the Elves we break serving the Sons of Fëanor  for our Oath. And some of the laws we break remind us how much we gain from one another, that our fight for our Oath, against our enemy, is worthwhile." Rodendil tilted his head, the corners of his mouth turning up. "Do you think I speak outrage and blasphemy? Or is it something you would try?"

Elrond flinched as Rodendil ran fingers over his furred chest; it was the first gentle touch his tormentor's hand had given him. "You'd be warm for a winter's night. You never answered my question. Are you a virgin? A rare thing, here, with so few young folk in this camp." Rodendil's hand was tracing up and down, lower each time. 

The offer made clear, Elrond reached a tentative arm to embrace Rodendil. All he got was one last tempting stroke down to his crotch before cold air struck them both, and they turned around. Someone had entered the tent, its flap left unfastened by the departing smiths.

"My lord," said Rodendil, turning around and kneeling. Only one in all the camp would have entered a rite of ansereg, as if all such rituals were his rightful place: Maedhros.

Elrond, in a panic, gripped the chains again. To be found near naked, marked, and so visibly roused, by his foster father's brother; he braced himself for a storm.

Maedhros looked him up and down, as the smiths had done, and his intensely handsome face was cool. "Well. I walked past and heard you speak of ansereg that had gone well. I thought to praise some of my elf-men, and instead - you." Maedhros turned to his esquire. "Rodendil, how many trials has he had?"

"Two, my lord." 

Maedhros stepped up and looked deep into Elrond's eyes, considering. Few were taller than Elrond; and Maedhros was one. He lifted his right arm in a gesture that, in another elf-man, would have had him touching his mouth in thought, as Rodendil had done before. But there was no hand on Maedhros' arm; he lifted the limb and folded it in, considering. Elrond forgot to breathe again as he waited for what Maedhros would say, praise or condemnation.

Maedhros did not look away from Elrond's eyes as he said, "Things tend to happen in pairs, in these days; my brother and I, your brother and you, a pair of Silmarils remaining thanks to your pair of parents. Shall I break that run, and be your third?" 

Elrond felt giddy again. He was hugely relieved that Maedhros was neither angry nor going to tell Maglor, and dazzled by the most powerful elf in his world paying him such heed. "Oh, yes, my lord."

Maedhros smiled. "Tomorrow, then. Come to me at this same hour." Elrond, dazzled, did not pay attention to Maedhros' short exchange with Rodendil before he parted.

With Maedhros gone, Elrond let go the chains at last. In awe, he said to Rodendil, "He's never said so much to me at once before." 

Rodendil was stunned as well, and the glint in his eyes was jealous. Elrond remembered Rodendil saying, you are like me, and it struck him that this pleased Rodendil less, now. "I wish you luck, lad. He does not torment often, but when he does…I wish you luck." Rodendil handed Elrond his tunic. "Now, I go to my lord. He would not have sought me if he did not need me."

Part 3: The Oath-Bound.

Meanwhile we do no harm: for they That with a god have striven Not hearing much of what we say, Take what the god has given; Though like waves breaking it may be, Or like a changed familiar tree, Or like a stairway to the sea Where down the blind are driven.

From Eros Turranos, Edwin Arlington Robinson

Elrond had not intended to say aught to Elros of what he had been about, but he forgot that the tale of it was writ upon his skin. When he chanced to take off his tunic before his brother the next day, Elros asked how he had gained such bruises. So dismayed was Elros, and then vengeful, that Elrond told the full tale, lest Elros take it into his head to pick a fight with anyone.

It turned out to be a fortunate mistake. Elros sat down on his camp bed with a relieved smile, his shoulders more relaxed than Elrond had seen in many a day. "It sounds as if you gain within the camp's walls what I gain outside it. Fair done! And with ansereg, you beat me to something, for once!"

"Say rather, I was beaten to it," said Elrond, and they fell about laughing, though the jest was meagre. 

This time, the young fellows exchanged tales, each scarcely listening to the other in their happiness at having a confidante. Elros did pay heed when his brother told him of his near brush with lust's fulfilment. Elros did not blink at the fact that Elrond had come nigh to embracing an elf-man; for Elrond was far from the only one to do such a thing in that soldier's camp. Instead, his brother said, "You were that close, and Maedhros walked in and said he would torment you, and then Rodendil would have none of you?" Elros snorted. "I doubt I could keep it standing were he or Maglor to stride upon me when I was well mounted."

"We were not that far on the ride - ah, never mind."

Elros asked, half-disbelieving, "You will not do it with Maedhros? Will you?"

"I doubt it. Maedhros - "Elrond shivered at the thought of the elf-lord's intense allure. "Maedhros can ease himself with anyone he pleases, he is so well-formed. Who would say nay to him? No, I expect this rite to be like the others, ansereg for its own sake. I told Erestor, for he asked me how it went with Rodendil. And Erestor cursed me roundly for a fool, he did! But then he gave me salves and linens - in advance. I would need them, said he."

"Did Maedhros say why he asked for you?"

Elrond's face grew clouded. "No."

Both of them fell silent. Elrond brooded about this question. In their boyhood, they had been petted and spoiled by much of the camp; come to manhood, many said they would fill the boots of lost Amrod and Amras. This was true in one sense at least, for grown to manhood, the living brothers had been clad in the saved gear of the dead ones, worn yet princely. But there were moments; moments when they heard some elves cursing mortals or calling them crude or sickly, then falling silent when one of the brothers walked past. And Maedhros, for all his mercy, had been cool to them. Elrond did not think that Maedhros would blemish the rite he had created for petty cruelty. But the idea shadowed him just the same.

Elros was thinking along a different path. "If you win Maedhros' favour," he said, "would you speak for me if I sought to bring my beloved into the camp? He is the one who laid down the law that no mortals should pass the camp's gates. Do you think he would ever make one exception?"

Elrond scratched the base of one of his braids, considering. "Let me see about gaining his favour first," he finally said.



The camp had wooden halls for gatherings, for storing goods, and for use as a fortress at need. Ironically it was the Green-elves who joined them, the Laiquendi used to camping in troops, who made those halls their dwelling. The Noldor preferred the tents for their privacy, a luxury of days past that they clung to. Not all the tents were equally fair. Elrond remembered admiring Maedhros' tent as a lad. Wherever the camp was shifted to (it had moved four times in Elrond's brief years), Maedhros' tent was always laid with velvety rugs, slightly faded but still marvels. Its walls were insulated with richly broidered hangings, and the belongings there were stowed in wooden boxes and fine-made baskets. It was also lit with some of the few remaining elf-lamps of Valinor, the thin blue light of their ever-living crystals filling the space. It was large, for an elf-lord alone; twenty lords of the camp could be packed to sit inside. 

Rodendil had told Elrond to present himself to Maedhros at midnight. He waited outside the tent's opening for several minutes before he entered, fearing that he had come too early. It did not seem to matter; for Maedhros was waiting. Elrond was surprised that he waited alone, with none to attend him. Maedhros also rarely availed himself of the camp's charcoal, nor had he made an exception of that for Elrond's third rite of ansereg; the tent was cold. Elrond did not shiver from that, though. He had tagged along with Maglor many a time to that tent, but never before had he seen two thick silver chains fixed from its rafters, hanging down to coil heavily along the rug.

It was easier to stare at the chains than to look at Maedhros. The elf-lord did not seem to feel the cold, clad neatly in inky black from head to toe. In the tent's blue light, he looked pallid, and his rich red hair nearly burgundy in its braids. And his face had the expression it wore with little variance, an intense calm. For an instant, Elrond admired his beauty. Then Maedhros met his eyes, and the white flame of Maedhros' spirit seemed to flare. He lifted his left hand, which in battle wielded sword far more deadly than his lost right hand had, in silent greeting. 

As Maglor's foster-son, Elrond had never knelt to Maedhros before. Remembering what Rodendil had taught him, he did so now, giving an obeisance on one knee. "My lord, I am ready for ansereg, whenever you wish to begin."

Elrond had knelt directly in front of Maedhros, bowing his head, and he felt that fell and singular hand caress the top of his head, and run through his dark braids. Elrond was glad that he had placed some gold clips, adornments of festival, to hold the grouped braids together and back. Maedhros' hand lingered for a moment on the gold in the dark hair before he fixed his fingers at the nape and drew Elrond's head back, forcefully.

As ever, Maedhros' voice was clear and focused. "I ask nothing of my followers I am not willing to endure myself. The stain of Kinslaying, everything ansereg has to offer, even to go to Thangorodrim again for torment." Maedhros paused, then let go of Elrond's hair and straightened to his towering height above the kneeling youngster. "And you do not say me nay. Very well. Now that you are here, you will aid me."

The chains had been hung but no other preparations for the rite had been made. Maedhros set Elrond to that work. It did not occur to Elrond, as he unfolded yet another rug, one worked with a circle, and took out some linens, that Maedhros had the wit to keep his servant from further jealousy. He stiffened a bit in resentment as he poured a cup of water tinged with wine to the ready, leaving it standing on a salver. Maedhros watched him keenly all the while.

"Bring me that basket-work case there, then place yourself between the chains," Maedhros intoned. Elrond did so as Maedhros stood, considering. "Well, I have seen a bit of your spirit," he observed, "and it is clear that you shall wish to stand in ansereg more than you kneel."

Nervously, Elrond gripped the chains. "Do you think me weak?" he blurted.

"That remains to be seen," said Maedhros. "Take off your garb."

Elrond, as twice before, undressed down to the loincloth. Maedhros gestured towards the black brocade that girded Elrond's loins. "That as well," Maedhros said, expression unchanged. In the cold tent, Elrond felt his hands sweat, knowing that if he was roused yet again, there would be no hiding it. He also remembered Rodendil's cruel grip on him there. Nonetheless, the loincloth too was set aside. 

His calmness was tested immediately as Maedhros came up to him and ran chill fingers over his chest, patting him. "I am seeing how much flesh you carry over your bones." Maedhros frowned as he drew his fingers through the patches of pelt. "You are different. Very different from…" As his words trailed off, a terrible grief pierced his inscrutable expression. It only lasted for an instant. "The blood of the sons of Men is clear in you."

Elrond nodded. "I know. Um, my lord. The hair—"

"Not that. You are still marked from yestereve. Most Elves would be healed in full after such a rite." Maedhros' lips curved. "And yet I hear that some mortals endure torment that would break many an elf-man. You will be interesting." Maedhros knelt to the basketwork case. Its light lid was easily opened with one hand. From it, Maedhros drew a cane-rod, similar to the switch Erestor had used against him, and something Elrond could not distinguish in the dark room, the item dark itself. 

Maedhros' glance back up was sharp. "Why do you smile?"

Elrond went blank with terror. "I meant naught by it! My lord! It's just that every time, I've been beaten, my lord, along with the other torments."

"Do you find it dull?" Maedhros whispered. "That's part of the point. There are a thousand torments that await; binding, burning, cruel labour, watching the torment of another, seeing your flesh cut from you. Angband shelters engines of torment you cannot imagine. But it always, always comes back to this." Maedhros cracked the cane-rod against his own thigh sharply. Elrond flinched more than he did. 

"If you go through this three times, at the least, you are a little better fitted. I would have been. I used to be a terrible fighter."

Another chill took Elrond. Maedhros was speaking; but not to him, though Maedhros stared at him and through him. His luminous grey eyes, with a bright ring around dark edges, seemed lit with fire from behind their dark pupils. "Our Oath drew us to evil swiftly. But by the Valar, we were clumsy in our cruelty! Morgoth would have laughed to see us belabouring each other at the first Kinslaying. But we learned fast. Still, they hewed my allies down around me at the battle where I was taken by Morgoth; only Rodendil survived, of them." With disturbing suddenness, those grey eyes blinked into focus, regarding him once more. "I have seen you and Elros spar. You children of war exceed the fighters we were after two Ages under the trees. No, I was not the best of fighters, when Morgoth's servants took me. But I found another weapon, inside myself. I could endure." 

Maedhros lifted his left arm again. "Now I will find out if you will." 

With blinding swiftness, Maedhros snapped the cane against the front of Elrond's thighs. He was felled to his knees by the agony.

"Stand up!" said Maedhros, cold as ever, and Elrond scrambled to comply. Those stormy, luminous eyes met his again. "Thus we begin," said Maedhros. The last thing Elrond saw, before he closed his eyes against another burst of pain, was that Maedhros had slid the dark item into the left side of his belt. It was a leather flail with many straps to it. 

What followed was torment, pure and raw, with none of the pacing or pauses others had shown to him in ansereg before. Erestor had named himself too gentle. Rodendil had said direct that he did not mean to break Elrond. But Maedhros weighed Elrond, and all others, it seemed, by his own profundity, held them up to his own measure. Maedhros had grown merciless in seeking to fulfil the Oath. Perhaps, thought Elrond, he had come to that by being so merciless to himself. 

Even Elrond's brief acquaintance with the stinging rod helped him to endure it. He was still able to think as he endured. When Maedhros switched to the flail against his back, he knew it. Between grunts of pain, Elrond, as Erestor had said he ought, drank the sensation into his memory. The flat strips pounded him with unexpected force, even as the leather's edges at times snapped as if cutting. Spread out broadly, this seemed to not be the worst.

Except that Maedhros did not stop. 

The flogging went on, and on, and on; its agony increasing, for Maedhros concentrated on his back alone. Before its relentlessness, Elrond soon found himself on his knees, wrestling with pain and with the disbelief of shock. Soon he grimaced in resentment. Maedhros did not need to be so hard, so very hard. He would have vowed that he felt blood starting to warm his back, a stray trickle of it rolling around his ribs. Did he torment others so horribly? It was unfair! 

By now Maedhros had to bend half over for his strikes to connect, for Elrond was knelt curling, clenching his arms tight against his sides, head bowed down, legs tucked under to shield his arse. 

And still Maedhros tormented him with the flail.

Elrond bent double at the waist, hands sliding further down the chains, his back arced like a tortoiseshell beneath the blows, forehead down against the carpet. For a moment, he thought clearly, and saw his own shame as he cowered on the floor. It was almost beyond him to force his body to unbend, so he set himself to enduring instead. At that, he loosened a little. The flail struck hard against his arse, and now the agony there was a relief, compared to his back. At another blow there, the flail's tips caught his scrotum. Elrond's shriek would have made Rodendil declare the trial done. 

It gave even Maedhros pause. For a blessed instant, the beating stopped. Heedless of manners, Elrond curved to peer at Maedhros, and was surprised to see him breathing deeply. It refreshed the dregs of Elrond's courage to know that what he had taken was no mere toying, as he had feared. Arms shaking, he slid his hands further up the chains, kneeling higher.

Maedhros laughed, once. Then the flail fell again against his arse, and Elrond shouted out again. At least kneeling up shielded his genitals, he thought, and another time of endurance followed. Pain, for a while, was all.

This time, when the beating stopped, it seemed unreal. As Maedhros came around to his front again, the least sounds of his passage rang to Elrond's ears, as he knelt trembling, face drenched with tears and mucus.

"You seem to feel more pain than elves do. More, you come before me marked from yesterday. And yet. What are you, that kneel before me?" Maedhros said. 

Elrond had neither guile nor walls in his mind left after the long torment. "I don't know! I don't know! I am. And I am here." 

Elrond flinched as the butt of the flail's handle came under his chin. Maedhros used it to tilt his face up. "Why did you say yes to me?" 

Beyond any dissemination. Elrond heard himself reply, "Because you are so beautiful." 

Maedhros laughed, with his fey, untrammelled note. "Do you know, that was why mortal Uldor said he betrayed us at the battle of the Nirnaeth?" Elrond did not breathe. "Our beauty was too great, he said, untouched by death, something no mortal could ever grasp, an eternal torment to those of mortal kind. But you put the lie to that with your existence, o Half-Elven." 

Idly, Maedhros said, "I hate mortals because I loved them once. They seize their time so fully, they gave me hope - that not all Arda would be turned to evil; and that the Oath might be fulfilled. The treachery of mortals took that from me." Maedhros withdrew the flail's handle to replace it with something very similar. He slid the slid stump of his right hand, trapped in his tunic's black sleeve, along Elrond's cheek. "You are faithful; you would not betray me."

"Never, my lord," Elrond whispered.

"But I am not beautiful," said Maedhros; and Elrond feared his feyness all the more. Maedhros' black tunic fastened along the right shoulder, and he ripped it open with his left hand, revealing his white torso. Soon he was free of it, and he held his maimed right arm in front of Elrond. He cried out, "Look at me! Look at this. Never am I seen, I say; for few bear to look on how I am marred." Elrond gaped in amazement at the totemic limb, the span above the stump smoother and narrower than a normal forearm. No scar, strangely, remained. It was not grotesque in itself, but because of what it was not.

Maedhros ranted on. "They turn eyes away, they flinch in fear. There was only one who knew me fully; Fingon the Valiant. He who severed this hand never flinched from his deed." Maedhros ran the naked limb-spar over Elrond's face, making him shudder. "He was our king. And rightly so; better him than me."

"Stand up." This command seemed strange after the impassioned diatribe, but Elrond managed to haul himself up along the chains. He also remembered that he was entirely nude when Maedhros ran his right arm down to caress Elrond's hip. "You endure much of me. I have had others unclasp the chain at my right arm's touch." The left hand of Maedhros drew forwards and caressed one of Elrond's long, dark braids. "You are grown fair to me as well, thereby."

All this misery and beauty bewildered Elrond. He had thought himself spared in this trial from the hot blood that had plagued him before. Now that (he prayed) the pain was done, he felt light-headed and hot. At Maedhros' sensuous touches, and the nearness of his perfect torso, arousal rushed back to him. He found himself inclining towards Maedhros as he had towards Rodendil. 

For one incredible instant, Maedhros met him with all his body, pressing up against Elrond fully. Then Elrond was stunned as Maedhros, dipping to kneel, placed his mouth below Elrond's heart. All the sinews in Elrond's arms stood out as he hung onto the chains, his burning face turned away. Maedhros ran his mouth to follow the line of hair down Elrond's belly, even laughing softly as he ran his face beside Elrond's hard phallus. Elrond staggered as Maedhros turned and tongued the tip of it. 

Just when Elrond was drunk with pleasure, he felt a soft touch parting his legs and spread them willingly. He chanced to look down, and his heart stopped. It was Maedhros' truncated right arm that had spread him, and now rested along the lower curve of his arse. It was a pleasure to have something pressing there even as it was horrible, the blind limb thicker than the widest phallus.

To terrify him further, Maedhros spoke, and seemed to be having one of his more absent moments. "Fingon gave me a treasure, in apology for taking off my hand."

Elrond looked up again, managing to gasp, "What was it? The green stone you wear ever?" He could feel that jade pendant, around Maedhros' neck, cool against his burning thigh.

"That is from him, and precious, but no." Maedhros slid the handless arm against him without restraint, and Elrond felt the blunt tip of it right behind his scrotum. "Can you guess what he gave me of himself? Can you?" 

For all that he was virgin, Elrond was no innocent, and his hot blood had given him some imaginative nights. He had never bethought this deed, though, and he shivered at the thought. "He…" Elrond glanced down at Maedhros again, at that rapt, terrible beauty. "He let you pierce him with that arm?"

Maedhros' voice was raw with longing as he said, "And I forgave my beloved a thousandfold." Maedhros leaned to the side for an instant, then handed a jar up to Elrond. "Open this." Elrond did so. The jar held unguent. Maedhros took the opened jar, set it to one side, and slid out three fingers' worth of the slippery stuff. With his only hand, he slid the unguent where his handless arm had teased. This done, he replaced the blind arm in the crevice of flesh once more. Elrond felt it hard with bone yet also strangely tender from its shielding flesh.

"Will you let me do it to you? You, who hang on these chains, as I once did in Thangorodrim?" 

Elrond considered the pain, the violation, what he would lose by it - his first time! His terror was awful enough that his cock softened and settled low. But he remembered how Maedhros seemed to have softened towards mortals through Elrond's own suffering, and the terrible look in his eyes as he asked to be seen. Truly seen. He looked down at the beauty of Maedhros, remote as the Silmaril that rode the sky, waiting on his word. Sent to his own depths in fear, he found there some compassion, and braced himself.

"If you ask it of me, my lord, yes." 

And Maedhros smiled. 

He stood up, placing the arm-stump against Elrond's cheek. "It is enough that you are willing. The trial is borne." 

Elrond collapsed to his knees. 

When he could think again, he opened his mouth to say something, but he did not, for Maedhros said, "Do you remember what I said before?"

"I'm lucky I remember my own name, my lord," said Elrond, voice shaky.

Maedhros laughed, the reeling chime of a madman. At groin level, Elrond saw him unwrest the buttons along his leggings, and slide his loins free. As he worked, he said, "I said I asked nothing of my men that I would not endure myself." Elrond caught one glimpse of a hard, high cock before Maedhros went down to his knees and locked Elrond into a kiss.

Neither of them stood up for the rest of the night, nor felt the room turn frigid as the night passed. For the first, Maedhros turned to what he had interrupted with his testing question, suckling at Elrond's cock until it throbbed with life anew. For fear of spending too soon, Elrond begged to take Maedhros in thusly. This was permitted, and he lost himself for a time as he explored Maedhros with his mouth and hands. The elf-man's skin was warm, and the touch of it allured; steely with muscle, yet forgiving, even down to the hard bar of Maedhros' erection. For a moment, Elrond touched the fine, crisp curls of pubes that, in the lamp's light, were the same reddish hue as Maedhros' hair. Then he tried to mimic what Maedhros had done using his own mouth. He seemed to do well enough that Maedhros said little, only uttering soft sounds of pleasure. When the taste of him began to turn salt in Elrond's mouth, he pulled the young man's head away, left hand lingering as ever on Elrond's braids. " I want to have you; and you will have the same of me, if you wish. Lay you down as you would be taken."

Elrond obeyed by kneeling on all fours to spare his beaten back. He had thought there was no fear left in him after all the terrors upon terrors of his trial, but he went limp with relief when he felt Maedhros press his loins, not the arm-stump, against his waiting croup. He was already greased. And taking a cock thusly, even Maedhros' considerable member, seemed well within endurance compared to that arm. He felt pressure, stretching, intrusion and tightness, and then - pain ceased, and he knew a strange pleasure where he had only expected torment. Even the ache of his belaboured arse blended into joyous fire.

Maedhros leaned forwards, forcing him down, wrapping his right arm around Elrond's shoulders and collarbones. When Elrond lowered his jaw to kiss the end of that right arm, Maedhros drove himself in deep with a soft cry. When he fell still, Elrond realized the elf-man had spent inside him. He stayed still and kneeling until Maedhros withdrew, and he felt his body close up again.

Elrond did not marvel about his for long. Maedhros cast himself to the carpet, beside and below Elrond, looking up at him with a glance more wild than ever. "Your turn," Maedhros breathed. 

Again, Elrond opened the jar he had shut before, suddenly awake to the fact that even this simple task took two hands. He readied Maedhros with one hand, reaching down to caress him with the other. Maedhros wore the same absent expression he shifted to when his speech grew strange. At the touch of Elrond's hand, Maedhros shivered, and that beautiful face shifted back to the present. To keep him there, Elrond leaned down and kissed him on the mouth, nervously reaching up to caress the points on his stone-smooth chest. 

There was a moment of fumbling after Maedhros shifted one long thigh. After sliding too low, then too high, each slip against the hot crevice maddening, he finally pierced the waiting elf-man's nethers with his cock. Sheathing himself inside another's body was, simply, the best thing he had ever felt in all his days. He cried out with each thrust, hard and heedless, to spend soon with a keen cry. Poised in the long moment after he was done, he felt sweat trickling down his back - or was it blood from the flail's wounds? Taut and triumphant, he cared naught. 

Even after that, there was yet more to follow. Maedhros was given over to his wildness, and Elrond had a young man's fire to match it. In that night Elrond let himself be lost, saving one thing only; whenever he rolled on his back, or sat, he was reminded of the price he had paid for gaining Maedhros' beauty. Later on, after years had passed, Elrond came to rue those hours on the floor of Maedhros' tent. It would be long before another lover pleased him so.

When their fever died down at last, the two of them coiled together on the rugs. Elrond replaced the top on the near-empty jar of unguent. For once, Maedhros looked as if he was on the same earth as everyone else. They chatted for a time, much as Elrond had with Erestor after his first trial. Maedhros asked at last about his first two trials, and was even amused. "I was right when I said you would not be kneeling for long, not after the way you took me this night." 

Elrond sat up, shaken. "Do you think me weak? That I would not take my share of the pain?"

"No. But I can read it in you." Maedhros reached up and shifted Elrond's braids back again, reaffixing a golden clasp that was loose. He murmured, "Use well the tools it brings." 

Elrond had nothing to say to that. Faced with part of his future, he retreated for a moment into his past. "Will you tell my father - I mean, Maglor - about this night? For you are my kinsman, but through fostering, and, ah…"

Maedhros sat up and started to work his leggings up again. "He probably knows. But Maglor does not defy me."

Elrond saw how Maedhros looked through him, and the tent was suddenly very cold. The light of a winter dawn was starting to show around the tent's openings. Elrond's mind scrambled for a minute. He did not want this to be Maedhros' last memory of his trial with Elrond. Thinking fast, he handed Maedhros the untouched cup of wine-tinged water. "My lord?" Maedhros took the cup with a nod, and drank deeply. As he did, Elrond began to tidy away the few tools of ansereg that had been brought out, to show that he ended the rite as willingly as he had begun it. Maedhros approved, and even bid him to take down the chains of ansereg, to pack them in dry canvas, then into a wooden chest. 

When that was done, and they were both dressed once more (Maedhros in different garb from the black and silver) Maedhros gave him a formal, honourable farewell. "What I will say to Maglor is that you are full of age, and that you ought to join the van of warriors. As a scout or herald, probably; Erestor says you are good with tongues, and your mingled blood will be an advantage. You will hear more of this soon." He waved away Elrond's gushing thanks, growing remote even as he did so.

With an uneasy, half-swaggering stride, Elrond rambled back towards the tent he shared with Elros. The vague greyness of dawn was turning blue as he went along. To think that Maedhros had let him have everything…he could scarcely think about it. It had been a first time to remember, definitely. 

Elrond crunched to a stop in the slush and snow for a moment. Had Maedhros even known it was his first time? Nothing had been said of it. He shrugged a little bit, laughing, as if Maedhros' feyness was contagious. It was still a first time to remember. And a second, he thought, amused, and a third.

He noted that winter's ice was thawing. A good thing, for he was certain he reeked like a marten in heat. He would have to freeze himself bathing a stream that day just to be respectable company. Touching his head under his cloak's hood, he felt his braids snarled and disarrayed. It would be a fourth trial to try and yank the gold clips out of the tangles. Moving his hand lower, he felt the stickiness of blood along his jaw: there had been some rough moments on the carpets. He might carry a slash or bruise where others could see. Elrond was already grateful to Erestor for those salves. In the meantime, what would he say to Elros? Perhaps he would be jealous of Elrond - ah, no, there was something else Elros wanted. Maybe he would ask about aiding Elros tomorrow? No; he would take up his new duties, first, to be in a better position to bargain. 

Elrond looked up at the new Silmaril-star again, still bright against the rising dawn. Now he could be more forgiving of Elwing, having himself had to choose between terrors, and knowing after Maedhros how blurred wrong and right could be. Sympathy did not stop Elrond from thinking about other ways matters might have been; alliance, forgiveness, maybe the leaguer against Morgoth renewed. From that thought, he turned to the politics and pleasures that awaited. He was not dreaming, but planning, when he entered their tent.

Elros was lying on his camp bed, rolled in blanket and cloak. Elrond smiled at first, but before he could make a joke about tired hunters, he heard Elros' ragged keening. "What's the matter? Are you hurt?" Elrond asked.

"She's leaving."

"What?" Elrond knelt by his twin.

Elros gulped, "Her people are going south, to flee the growing evil of the lands. I - she broke tryst with me. Didn't come and tell me herself. One of the other folk in her tribe told me, and cursed me as an elf-wight."

Elrond patted Elros' shoulder as he quaked, tearful and furious. "I should have been back sooner. I am so sorry," said Elrond.

Elros rolled over and grasped Elrond's arm. "The way I've been this winter, all the times you helped me - you are kind as summer." He turned his face up to Elrond to confess, "I would have gone with her if she had asked. I would have left you!"

Elrond wrapped a forgiving arm around his brother's shoulder. "My only brother. I understand how it is - when they ask." 

Elros collapsed gratefully against him. Elrond winced, all his bruises awakening. He did not flinch. After Maedhros, he recognized the strange torment love and knowledge could be, and he endured pain through compassion.


Story Notes

Please do not repost this story elsewhere without the consent of the author. First posted April 10, 2003.

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