Cultural Differences

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'Cultural Differences'


Cultural Differences


"Well yes, there are differences between us and Men, just as there are between us and your... kindred. Hardly means one is better than the other. We are all part of the Music, only - distinct in a few important ways."

Gil-galad suppressed a sigh as he spoke. Not only did he sound older than Cirdan and six degrees more ponderous, but he had almost said 'type', not 'kindred', which was derisive and rather too close to his true feelings. His only excuse was that for over an hour now he had been sitting on the patio of this small but beautifully appointed house, watching the sun sink low over the sea and talking about - nothing.

His host sat opposite, one leg crossed gracefully over the other, blue silk robe falling decorously to the floor in impeccable folds. His expression one of polite ennui, Enw the Maia, Herald of Manw, servant of the Valar, swirled clear liquid in his goblet and arched a perfect eyebrow. “Indeed, Majeste? Are the Quendi on this shore so far reduced as to term those short-lived creatures of the sunlight their equal?" His light voice rose and fell with an unfamiliar cadence, and a ghostly echo whispered behind the words.

Supercilious ponce. Gil-galad, who numbered a pair of Half-elven cousins amongst his immediate family, refused to be intimidated, although he conceded the Maia could take creepiness to new heights. He frowned. "Short lived, yes. Personally I lack the arrogance to regard any of the creations of the One as beneath me."

His voice had an edge to it. Also, his glass was almost empty. He had sipped his wine as slowly as a maiden at her first formal dinner, determined to ration himself to no more than one cup, but he was coming round to the idea that a refill might dull the urge to strangle the Maia.

Violet eyes regarded him distantly.

"Quite." Enw’s softly accented voice was starting to grate on the High King's nerves. That one word, coupled with a haughty downturn of lip, expressed a wealth of detail.

As though reading his mind - a disconcerting thought - the Maia indicated the wine flagon with an elegant, long-fingered hand. "More wine, perhaps? They tell me this is a fine vintage… for these lands."

The implied insult was not lost on Lindon’s king. Gil-galad eyed the decanter expressionlessly. "There's one clear difference between you and I this afternoon," he commented "I notice you’re drinking water. Can I assume our wine is not to your taste?"

Did they even have wine in Valinor? He had no idea; no one had ever mentioned Fanor overindulging in the grape, nor any of the ladies of legend reduced to flushed, laughing indiscretion on its account.

Enw indicated his glass, his expression one of faint incredulity. "Not water, Majeste, most definitely not. This is a fine white from a vineyard on the outskirts of Tirion. I thought it perhaps - not sufficiently familiar, and therefore offered you one native to this clime."


Not good enough for the peasant, in other words. "Well, I would have thought it simpler to drink the local fare than bring your own all the way over from the Undying Lands. Unless of course," the king added with deceptive mildness, "You find our local product too coarse for you refined palate."

Silence dropped like a stone into the ocean’s distant roar.

Gil-galad tried to feel bad about his lack of diplomacy, but to no avail. He was there at Enw’s request to find a middle ground between the economic needs of Forlond and those of Enw’s project, the building of a fleet of small ships to transport the Second born to the island refuge newly created for them by the Valar. There was intense competition for the services of shipbuilders, sail-makers, carpenters and the like and, while Gil-galad was all for consensus and compromise, Enw appeared to feel the ‘give’ element of 'give and take' should be supplied almost entirely by his guest. Irritation had finally won out over tact.

"I am sure it is - most pleasant," Enw said finally, his voice and manner belying the likelihood of this possibility. "I have no previous experience of - local - wine."

"Nor I of wine that looks more like water than the product of any grape that I’m familiar with," Gil-galad pointed out reasonably. "But there it is, or so it seems. How about an exchange? You try a glass of mine, and I'll sample yours?" Warming to his theme, he leaned forward, suddenly animated. "I’ll grant there might be a number of differences between Elves and Men - things that may need to be taken into account in your plans for them," he added warningly, suspecting no such thought had occurred to the Maia. "But you and I? We are perhaps more alike than you imagine. Call it a cultural exchange. Come, pour.”

Enw considered, his expression doubtful. Finally, with the suggestion of a shrug, he drained his glass and filled it instead with rich, red wine, one of the first harvests from the newly-established vineyards of south Forlond. Gil-galad in turn extended his now-empty goblet, which the Maia filled with clear liquid from a pale green jug of unfamiliar design.

The king politely sniffed the contents of his glass. The wine recalled an interesting mix of unknown berries, with hints of asparagus, of fennel perhaps, and... meadow grasses? Summery. Gil-galad had never been one to turn down a drink on account of its unfamiliar aroma. Had he done so, he might never have sampled dwarf brandy. He raised the glass with a smile that was adequate but bore little resemblance to his usual lazy, charming grin. "To cultural differences," he said. "Disparity and compromise."


Two hours later, eased along by several more glasses of unfamiliar liquor, the conversation had become quite lively. In that time they had agreed to a division of Forlond’s resources which, surprisingly, was mutually agreeable, and had moved on to consider such cultural distinctions as music, art, dance, and fashion.

"Just all round, we have more in common than not when you think about it,” Gil-galad declared finally. It was growing dark, and if he wanted to be home in time for dinner, he needed to start taking his leave. “We eat. We sleep. We have sex. We dance. We sing...."

"Sex? It is not our way to – rut like animals. I assume it is to this – activity - that you refer?" The disdain was palpable.

"Good gods, no.” Gil-galad took a mouthful of wine, then considered his recent history and winced. You’re only young once, he told himself firmly. Aloud he said, “Well, sometimes I suppose. Not always. Should be more about... closeness, foreplay - build-up?"

Enw’s brow furrowed. He rose with unnatural grace and began moving around the small patio, and for the first time Gil-galad noticed the candles. They were grouped unobtrusively on tables or set in discreet sconces, there was even a tall trio on the floor in the corner near the door. Within moments the sheltered area in which they sat took on a soft, golden glow. He made no use of flint and tinder, Gil-galad noticed, but simply passed his hand, fingers circled, up and above each pillar of wax, and flame blossomed. The action was - strangely erotic.

Elves could do that too, of course, but normally employed more prosaic means. Well, some elves could. His aunt excelled at this sort of thing. He had a good sense for fire himself, come to think of it. There was a candle on the occasional table near his chair and he surreptitiously tried to increase the energy about the wick to make it burn. It smoked sulkily at him, and he dropped his hand before the Maia could notice his less than adequate attempt.


Gil-galad came back to the conversation. "Yes... you know... kissing, feeling up, that kind of.... "

Violet eyes met his blankly. "'Feeling - up'?"

The silence stretched until it slowly dawned on Gil-galad that Enw was waiting for an explanation. He cleared his throat and set out to find words for something that was as natural to him as – well, as natural as sex, really.

“Well, yes, not sure what you’d call it. You know --- touching someone for pleasure while you kiss.’

Candles hissed, the sea murmured. He was unsurprised when the cool voice finally asked, “Kiss?”

Enw was a point of shimmering blue in the centre of the small patio, his silver hair and shadowy violet eyes glittering softly as though starlit. Unnatural, Gil-galad thought, taking another sip of the rather excellent wine from Valinor. Too perfect. No one really looked like that outside of a nursery tale.

“It’s a thing we do,” he explained bluntly. “Two people place their lips against one another’s, apply pressure. Then they… part their lips and their tongues touch and – explore.” He wondered if he was shocking the Maia. The prospect left him feeling distinctly cheerful.

“To what purpose?” Enw asked. For once his face mirrored a real emotion – puzzlement. “Why would you – want to do such a – strange thing?”

He went over to the table and poured himself another glass, which put him ahead by one, Gil-galad thought. Or two. He wasn’t sure. Some things were starting to run together in his memory. “Um, it feels good? Exciting? Sexually arousing?”

“This – sex. This is for the procreation of young, is it not?” Enw brought the Valinorian flagon over and topped up the king’s glass. “Why is it necessary to find pleasure in such a - necessary act?”

“We don’t always do it to make baby elves,” Gil-galad declared firmly, drinking deeply of the wine. Oddly, it remained as cool as though kept on ice, a practice that had recently become fashionable. He began ticking items off on his fingers. “Do it for pleasure, do it to show affection, do it for – fun? Excitement? I prefer it with males rather than females, so no, not always for… that.”

Instinct suggested ‘procreation’ might stumble on his tongue; short words seemed the better part of valour.

“We do not do such things in the Undying Lands.” Enw could not have sounded more disapproving had a snail crawled out of the wine decanter.

“Your loss,” Gil-galad told him equably, waving his glass vaguely. “Though the elves over there were certainly doing it back before my family left. Plenty of baby elves. Look at Fanor? Seven of them. And I’m pretty sure the swans didn’t bring any of that crowd.”


Cirdan’s original explanation for where babies came from. Not a topic he was about to share with his host. “Never mind, long story. Point is, we don’t just do it to – pro-cre-ate.”

Well, he was obviously still sober. His tongue coped with that just fine.

“You regard yourself as – proficient – at this – activity?” Enw asked carefully, apparently picking his words with caution.

“I’d like to think so, yes. In fact, I like to think I’m quite good at it, all in all.”

The patio beyond the circle of light suddenly seemed darker, the sound of the waves more pronounced. The candles burnt with a steady flame, apparently immune to the breeze that rustled the creeper clinging to the trellis at Gil-galad’s back. He puzzled over this anomaly briefly before focusing on the Maia, who had moved closer and was watching him consideringly. The king was struck by how subtly ‘alien’ he seemed.

“Is it – difficult?”

Warning bells did more than ring, they jangled loudly. Shaking his head briefly in an attempt to clear it, Gil-galad put down his glass and tried to remember exactly what he had said. “Difficult?” he asked. “Uh, no, not difficult. Should just – take its course, really.”

The stillness increased, the air felt heavy. Enw tilted his head to the side and seemed to be thinking. Finally, in a voice whose exotic sibilance folded within the rush of the ocean, he said, “One of my instructions was to take note of the new customs and norms of the Noldor on this shore. This – kissing – may or may not be known amongst the Vanyar and Teleri, but I have never, personally heard of such a thing. Nor am I aware of such – physical intimacy amongst males.”

“Quite all right,” Gil-galad said in what he hoped was a brisk voice. “Different cultures, different mors.” Had he really admitted he preferred males? That deceptively light Valinorian wine had a kick like a mule.

Enw nodded slightly. “Of course. Will it take long to learn?”

“Not much learning involved. You just - do it… follow your partner, give them what they want.”

“Ah.” Enw looked relieved. “In that case, I assume you can spare me a little more of your time, Majeste?”

Yes, he had really said that. And as far as the king could tell, yes, he really meant that, too. Before Gil-galad could compose a suitable response, if there were such a thing, Enw had covered the final distance between them and sunk down onto the couch beside him in a slither of silk.

“How does this begin?”

The word ‘no’, accompanied by several others, reached Gil-galad’s lips and froze unspoken as he found himself staring, mesmerized. Up close, the Maia had skin like alabaster, pale and flawless. Where the light caught his silver hair it shimmered and sparkled as though each strand had a life of its own. His scent was unique: clean wind off the ocean, forest greenness, and… lilac. Warmth awoke within Gil-galad, its butterfly wings caressing his loins.

Enw’s eyes were amethyst, darkening to an outer ring like morning mist and fringed with quite the longest lashes Gil-galad had ever seen: thick, dark… His finger lifted seemingly of its own accord and carefully touched their tips. Enw blinked, but kept still. It was a simple affair to bring his hand down, stroke the smooth cheek, cup that perfectly sculpted chin… Gil-galad slid his free arm about slender shoulders and leaned forward, his eyes holding Enw’s gaze. “We do it like this,” he murmured huskily.

The Maia’s lips were impossibly soft, like rose petals, like velvet. Gil-galad moved mouth against mouth, pressed, rubbed. Enw sat obedient in the circle of his arm, head tilted back, eyes unnervingly contemplative. Gil-galad drew back. “We close our eyes, usually,” he explained quietly. “It helps us to focus on the physical sensations without other – distractions.”

Twilight eyes slowly closed as Gil-galad brushed the tip of his tongue along the line where Enw’s lips met. He applied gentle pressure, and after a moment they parted and his tongue entered into a place that tasted of summer. He tightened his arm about the Maia’s lithe body and deepened the kiss, his tongue sliding against Enw’s, teasing, tasting. After a moment of confusion, Enw submitted totally, responding to every movement no matter how subtle. His head dropped back against Gil-galad’s shoulder, his hand rose hesitantly to rest on the king’s chest with a touch that felt like fire.

Gil-galad continued to devour the willing mouth; there seemed to be nothing else in the world, just candlelight and the scents and taste of the exquisite creature in his arms. His hand glided over silk, passing from Enw’s shoulder down his side, fingers sliding lingeringly over the ripple of ribcage before dropping to his thigh. Smooth, firm lines slid invitingly under his touch. His hand slipped lower, pausing to explore the curves and hollows of the Maia’s knee, then retraced its path, questing.

Enw sat with his legs drawn half up, and it was a simple matter for Gil-galad to cup and cover the unambiguous beginnings of desire. He squeezed none too gently, his mind empty of anything beyond pleasure, and Enw leaned against him bonelessly, legs parting as he offered himself to the king’s touch.

Silk-clad fullness awakened, hardening in his hand. The heated kisses continued, Enw still open and utterly compliant to every nuance. Gil-galad wondered vaguely if he was wearing underwear; it appeared not. The silk clung to his prick like a second skin, thin enough that he could make out the ridge surrounding the crown, detect and tease the already-leaking slit.

Enw was making soft, feral noises in his throat, and his hips had begun moving rhythmically, pushing up into the king’s encircling hand. Gil-galad tightened his grasp as he relinquished the intoxicating mouth to explore the softness of the Maia’s smooth neck. He bit sharply, and heat rushed through him as Enw’s cock twitched in his hand in response. He squeezed, stroked, and the low growl close to his ear caused his own to pulse with urgency.

He was easing Enw to lie back on the seat when the lessons of adolescence took him by the back of the neck and shook until finally his ears began to function again - and not a moment too soon. Somewhere from within the house he heard a voice he knew only too well saying, “…… been here before, young one. I can show myself up. Out on the patio, you say?”

Instinct born of bitter experience took over. He disengaged from Enw in a couple of swift, thorough moves, and even had the foresight to hiss urgently, “Not one word to my foster father.”

The Maia’s hair was disheveled, his clothing less than impeccable and he looked slightly dazed - as well he might, Gil-galad thought wryly as he quickly tidied silver locks behind delicate ears and shook out the fine silk robe to try and disguise a strategically placed patch of moisture. He wasn’t a moment too soon. He had barely retrieved his glass when footfalls sounded and Crdan stepped out onto the candlelit patio.

Enw, unreadable, dipped his head in polite greeting, although he made no immediate move to rise Gil-galad noticed with satisfaction. “Lord Crdan,” he said evenly. “How pleasant.”

“Evening, Hren.” Gil-galad raised his wineglass in salute. “Wasn’t expecting you. I think we got all that business sorted out satisfactorily?” he added, quirking a bland eyebrow at Enw.

The Maia nodded tranquilly. “It has been a most informative evening thus far, Lord Crdan,” he declared, finally rising to his feet and crossing to the table that held the wine decanters. “We have been discussing cultural differences. Wine?”

“Singing, art, clothes, that kind of thing,” Gil-galad said a little hastily. He had a gut feeling that it would be unwise to leave his foster-father alone with the Maia, who was unpredictable enough to say just about anything.

“Indeed,” Enw agreed with him. “All of those. It has been most – instructive.”

His voice was once more cool and aloof. Nothing in his demeanour hinted at the glorious, yielding creature Gil-galad had held in his arms only a few minutes before.

Crdan looked from one to the other, sensing an atmosphere. He knew that Gil-galad disliked the Herald, referring to him regularly as stuck-up and arrogant. Probably the cultural discussion had provoked a few tense moments; Enw had a tendency to patronise. “No wine for me, thank you,” he demurred. “I stopped by to see if his majesty would join me in a surprise inspection of one of the refurbished military craft. You are quite welcome to join us, of course.”

Enw shook his head with faint pretense at regret. “Thank you Lord Crdan, but no,” he responded. His eyes passed over Gil-galad dispassionately. “I think I will enjoy a final glass of this quite interesting wine, and consider what I have just learned about local pastimes. His majesty has given me much to think on.”

The following morning when he was fully sober, Gil-galad was still unsure if it had been a trick of the light, or if the severely-carved mouth had really twitched with the hint of a smile.




Beta: Red Lasbelin