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'Sleep When We're Dead'
Sleep When We're Dead
The water splashed on impact, fountaining white up around them, then
dipped and rose as it settled, dark as oil under the sunset sky.
From on board ship the sound of raucous laughter and imaginative
curses cut the air, rising above the creak and snap of sail. Erestor
broke the surface spluttering, shaking back hair that clung to his
head, sleek as a seal's pelt. Something struck the water near them.
"Swim," Glorfindel yelled. "Come on. We're sitting targets."
Erestor turned in the water, spitting mad. "You stupid bastard!" he
shouted, the three words weighted with baleful sincerity, "Of all
the mindless..." He made a sound of disgust and struck out, long
strokes carrying him away from the ship. Glorfindel grinned briefly
and followed. Had the situation been reversed, had Erestor been the
one who had gambled too long and shown himself too lucky, he might
not have been so restrained.
"This way," he called, turning north-east where he’d been told the
closest land lay. Erestor ignored him, kept moving on some inner
tangent. He had an uncanny sense of direction, and after a moment
Glorfindel gave up and followed him. The light was uncertain and
they were too low to see where they should be going. A glance back
over his shoulder showed the bulk of the merchant ship black against
the sky, heading off for its next port of call, having divested
itself of the two so-called traders, one of whose gambling skills
and religion, or lack of same, had marked them as ill-omened cargo.
A wave lifted him from behind, dropping him into a trough on the
down curve. He rode it, came up spitting salt water, trying to spot
Erestor’s dark hair against the gloom. A voice near his ear said,
"Wind's coming up. We need to keep together." Erestor was treading
water, trying to divest himself of his boots and knot his hair back.
Glorfindel set to doing the same, bobbing in the rising waves like a
cork till he'd done. There was no need of words, they had been
together too long. When they were done, they set out determinedly,
swimming a short distance apart, keeping check of one another, not
wasting breath on chatter.
Varda's lanterns were winking on in the sky, the horizon blended
into the sea. Glorfindel could taste salt on his lips, felt the
burning at the back of his throat from swallowing sea water. The
ocean was vast and chill around them, the only good he could find in
nightfall was he could check Erestor's instincts against the stars.
He wondered how long they could swim for, how far to Syracuse, how
much elf endurance would count for after weeks of bad rations and
scant exercise. He spared a worried glance for Erestor, the lighter,
less physically strong half of the team; he was already in that
silent, focused place he sought when the task was heavy and the
hours had been long. What Erestor lacked in strength he made up for
Arm through the water, over and pull, over and pull. The night wore
in, grew darker. They rested at regular intervals, conserving their
strength against the cold. When they rested they talked randomly
about their possible destination, about how to get back to Athens,
which was where what remained of their money was held. After the
first outburst, Erestor had said nothing more about Glorfindel's
dubious judgment in the choice of transport. They might or might not
revisit it later, right now survival was their priority. They were
good at survival, centuries spent wandering the Hither Shore since
the Rings crossed into the West was proof of that.
"Fuck --- Glorfindel!" They very seldom used their true names now,
except in private moments usually involving passion. Horror radiated
off Erestor as he swam closer. "Look --- fins!"
Glorfindel considered. "It’s just two, Ery, not an entire horde. And
they might be dolphins..."
"Oh come on."
"No, probably not." He stopped, trod water carefully. "Do as I do,"
he said quietly. "No splashing, no flailing - we can't outswim them,
so we need to bore them. If we swim, they'll think we're turtles or
something. Just stay still and let them pass."
The water eddied around them, little wavelets smacking against them
as though against harbour bulwarks. Lack of movement let in the
cold, he had to force himself to relax so the shivering would stop.
Erestor had a hand on his arm, otherwise he was looking out into the
dark as they both practiced the age-old elven technique of being
not-there. The sharks slid past and kept going. They stayed
shivering where they were long after the fins faded into darkness
before finally Glorfindel said, "All right, we can chance it now.
Try and move smoothly."
They fell back into the rhythm that had been set before. The night
closed in around them, the water grew colder yet, the air was icy.
Their clothes clung about them, their hair drew the chill in through
the tops of their heads. They were taking a break, treading water
against the current with an eye on the stars to avoid getting turned
around, when Erestor asked thoughtfully, "How far down is it below
us, do you think? If this was a mountain...?"
Glorfindel snorted. "Further than you could dive before you ran out
of breath? Higher than that pass on top of the world that we crossed
Erestor considered this, tightened his knotted hair. Finally: "Well
we'd better keep swimming then."
The world was dark and empty, there seemed nothing left, just
themselves and the endlessly moving Mediterranean. Glorfindel was in
Erestor's wake, had been for some time. His mind kept slipping into
daydreams, and more than once his partner had looked back and
snapped at him to keep up, stay awake. They both knew the dangers as
the temperature of sea and sky dropped, losing all of the day's
heat. When Erestor stopped abruptly to tread water he almost swam
straight into him. "What's wrong?" He was wide awake now, praying
the answer wasn't cramp.
"There." Erestor pointed. He was out of breath as he hadn't been
earlier. "Look, just off to the side there."
He squinted along the line of Erestor's arm and his heart lurched.
"It's a light. That's --- either a ship or we've found land."
"The land wasn't lost," Erestor said logically. "It was just a long
way north. And it must be land. See, it's not moving."
Having a goal gave them new energy. They must have swum for another
hour, and Glorfindel thought a mortal would have died long since,
given in to the pull of the deep and gone down under one of the
larger waves they had to keep riding. As it was, the distance had
taxed even elven endurance close to its limits. They let the tide
bring them in towards the shore, listening as they tried to
understand where it was they had arrived.
"Not going through all this to get dashed on the rocks somewhere,"
he shouted, raising his voice above the sound of breakers crashing
ahead of them. "Can't see a damn thing."
Erestor was moving sideways, trying to lessen the force of the waves
against him. He swam like a dolphin, as at home in the sea as one of
Ossė's children might be. "It - sounds all right. Should we just
take it carefully, try and keep straight ahead?"
"No other choice. Let's go."
Waves rushed in to the shore, lifting them, tossing them around. The
relative calm of the open sea was gone. White water broke over his
head, forcing him down, and he had to fight against it with all his
strength, trying to find the way up to open air. He broke free,
looking around automatically. "Ery? Erestor!"
There was no answer. His racing heart skipped, skipped again and his
stomach twisted with fear, then his eyes found a dark shape
struggling in the water and a few strokes brought him to Erestor. He
grabbed an arm, shaking it. "Stop it, we're fine, we're clear,
there's some kind of a beach up ahead. Come on! Almost there."
They stumbled out of the water, his arm around a coughing,
spluttering Erestor who staggered a few steps along the stony beach
and then sank to his knees, retching. Glorfindel joined him, lying
prone, panting. The sobbing sounds beside him finally stopped, and
then Erestor crawled to him, collapsed over him, head against his
shoulder blade, arm over him. "Oh gods, that was the worst.... the
absolute worst. I will never set foot on a ship again."
"Just - be sure we have coin enough to lose if there’s gambling, and
double check who's worshipping what god."
Glorfindel waited till his heartbeat settled to normal and Erestor's
weight started being troublesome, then moved, shrugging the sodden
wetness of dripping clothes and hair off of him. "Come on, we can't
stay here. Need to find shelter, get dry. Get out of sight, too."
"Will never be dry again," Erestor muttered, sitting up and trying
to wring out his hair. "Look at this! I'll probably die of a fever
"We don't die of fevers generally," Glorfindel told him, grinning.
He got an elbow in the ribs for his trouble, then Erestor struggled
to his feet and looked around.
"There's steps up the rock," he stated. "Want to see what's up
"You said that about begging passage on the Coriander."
"You're not letting that go, are you?"
"What? You nearly got us killed by drowning this time. That's
ridiculous, elves aren't meant to drown."
"A whole lot probably did at the end of the War of Wrath?"
They finished crossing the small beach in silence. The steps were
rough-hewn and there was no rope or railing to grasp onto, legs that
had worked for hours in the water burned at the final effort. They
reached the top, neither looking back down, and hauled themselves up
onto a gravel path, to be confronted almost at once by a rush of
sound followed by violent growling. The dog was huge. Glorfindel
wasn't sure but he thought he had ridden smaller horses. It barred
their way, barrel chest heaving, front legs straight, back arched,
ready to spring. Erestor just kept walking, the pure fed-upness
radiating off him in waves. He made a sound low in the back of his
throat that had to be heard to be believed, somewhere between a
snarl and a shriek, and the dog froze, then turned tail and ran back
down the path, whimpering like a puppy.
Glorfindel silently took in Erestor out the corner of his eye:
soaked, barefoot, black hair clinging to his shoulders, face grim.
He looked Glorfindel's way, a shimmer of eye in the faint light.
"Had enough. I am not taking that shit. I am not swimming for hours
and then being chewed up by a farm dog. Don't worry, I wouldn't do
it in front of strangers."
"Relieved to hear it. Haven't heard anyone see off an animal like
that in ages." He softened it with a smile and held out his hand.
Erestor thought about it for a minute, then took it and they
continued along the path, keeping to whatever shadows they could
find. There was no sign of the dog, and the odds were good it would
keep a healthy distance. Erestor had called up race memory for it of
predators who roamed back when its forbearers had first learned to
seek the safety of men’s fires. The experience would not soon be
They skirted the house, considered the chicken coop, but agreed in
low whispers that the noise wasn't worth it. The barn beckoned, a
less than savoury place offering stabling for two horses and shelter
to a couple of goats. Erestor gave them a death glare and they kept
their distance. Glorfindel suspected he was hungry, never a good
time to cross him.
Glorfindel claimed the shadowy corner furthest from the door for
them. The horses had kept to the other side and the straw was almost
clean. Erestor found some more and piled it in place, making a bed,
and Glorfindel found a horse blanket draped over a wooden strut and
brought it over. "Doesn't smell too bad," he suggested. Erestor
sniffed it, wrinkled his nose and nodded, then sunk down tiredly on
the straw. Glorfindel joined him, placing the blanket beside them.
"Get out of the wet clothes," he said. "We can hang them over
something, let them air a bit before morning."
"That'll be fun if we're caught, running for our lives stark naked
with our clothes over our arms." He started undressing anyhow, few
things warmed the blood better than body heat.
Glorfindel took the clothing, hung it where it was least likely to
be seen, adding his own as he went along. Going back, he sat beside
Erestor who already had the blanket around him. He held an edge out,
offering to share, and Glorfindel settled beside him, an arm around
him, the blanket wrapped around them both. The head resting against
his shoulder was cold and slick, as was the skin pressed up against
his, but it was Erestor, and that meant he was home.
"Going to smell like horses."
"Yes, well, you were moaning about wanting to have a nice, long
bath, weren't you?"
Glorfindel leaned down, his lips brushing Erestor's temple. "Fresh
and clean now. Bit horsey in the morning, but there's worse things."
"If that goat comes near us..."
"That goat is dead scared of you, don't be silly."
"What do you think you are doing?"
"Getting my hand warm."
"Between my legs? Oh right, yes, perfect place."
"Mm, yes, might well be."
“I haven’t forgiven you yet.”
“No, of course not.” He didn’t move his hand, and Erestor didn’t
They sat quietly for a while, then Glorfindel lay down, bringing
Erestor with him, and they fitted together, wriggling to get the
blanket to cover them both properly. Glorfindel's hands moved over
slowly warming skin, rubbing firmly. Every so often he let his hand
slip down where it had begun and each time he touched Erestor, he
was harder, more inclined to push into his touch. It was a simple
thing to go from rubbing to kissing, his body covering the sleek,
wiry form beneath him, neither of them in need of warming now. He
brushed back smooth, damp hair, his hand cupping Erestor's face.
"Sorry. That was a mess."
"Was a mess, yes. You need to make it up to me."
"How would I do that?"
His lips following the line of Erestor's jaw before pausing to worry
the lobe of his ear. He traced the inner sculpting with his tongue,
and Erestor made a small noise in his throat, moving restlessly in
response. Glorfindel's hand travelled down his body, coming to rest
on his hip bone. "Go on. That'll do it,” Erestor hissed.
"Ha. You're easy."
"I know. Cheap too." Erestor turned over, skin like satin under
Glorfindel’s hand, leaned up on an elbow and looked down at him,
pale face framed by black hair. "Love me," he said softly. "Won't
cost you more than time."
"Time?" Glorfindel smiled up at him, feeling the lines of muscle and
bone as his hand glided down Erestor's back to rest on a firm,
rounded cheek. "We have all the time in the world, so long as we're
out of here before daybreak."
"No problem," Erestor said softly, moving closer to kiss him. "Who
needs sleep anyhow? We can sleep when we're dead - which won't be by
drowning, I might add. I think I just developed an allergy to large
bodies of water. Permanently."
Beta: Minuial Nuwing