Sometimes I feel like I'm glad to be free,
Sometimes I still want your arms around me
Sometimes I'm glad to have left you behind,
The crazy English summer has put you back on my mind.
Sometimes I feel like I'm fine on my own,
Fifty thousand miles from home.
Sometimes I'm weak and the past is my guide,
Summer returns and puts you back on my mind
- Faithless, Crazy English Summer
~2nd Age, c. 1800, the beginning of Lairë~
Seated on the wooden bench in front of the large window looking out over Imladris, Elrond Peredhel was waiting. His back was straight, his carefully braided hair hung in perfect symmetrical falls over his shoulders and his blue-and-grey robe was neatly arranged about him.
The sun had risen almost to her highest point, drying the dampened soil and heating up the air to pleasant temperatures. Imladris was buzzing with activity as a peaceful beehive might, preparing for the summer solstice that was upon them.
Amidst all these affairs Lord Elrond had been sitting here unmoving since daybreak, his eyes fixed on a distant point - or perhaps, a distant time - apparently deep in thought. Surrounding him was an aura of stillness that caused passing inhabitants to lower their voices and cast down their eyes, in fear of disrupting the unusually quiet and solemn air that filled the room. No one asked him what he was waiting for. The elves of Imladris knew better than to question their Lord's behaviour; strange as it may seem to them sometimes, they were aware he saw and knew more than they did. So the morning had left him undisturbed by interruptions of any kind, and each and every elf that passed by took one glance, and went on his way.
In reality his mind was blank and quiet, for he knew very well what was coming, and who.
So when the clatter of horses on the courtyard was heard and the whole household went into turmoil, elven voices rang through the house and reached the window, he rose, smoothened his robes, folded his hands and turned to face the door.
A dark-haired elf appeared, looking flushed and a bit dishevelled. He was wearing formal robes, matching the ones Elrond was dressed in but in darker tones, and it was obvious he had only recently changed. "Lord Elrond." His demeanour was grave.
"Erestor." The elf-lord bestowed a reassuring smile upon his counsellor. "Is there something I should know?"
"The king has come."
The expression on Elrond's face did not even change slightly. "Yes. He crossed the Bruinen at dawn. Is his party provided for?"
"Of course," Erestor said, without a hint of surprise. "I offered to escort him to his rooms, but he insisted on seeing you first."
"I should have expected that, I suppose." Elrond calmly walked up to his fidgeting counsellor. "Well, Erestor." He clasped his shoulder. "Shall I go and greet him then?"
Erestor followed him with hesitation, until Elrond turned his head and commented, "You have done your duty, Erestor. I will go alone."
Breathing out audibly, the dark-haired elf hurried off in another direction. This was a royal welcome he could very well do without witnessing.
Elrond stood for a moment in the doorway, studying the tall figure by the window. He was dressed in travel gear: tunic and breeches in blues and greys adorned with silver to illustrate his station. He wore riding boots that reached over his knees and were covered in dirt, signalling that he had travelled at some speed, and his shining dark hair was braided in a pattern designed to keep it from hindering him in a fast ride.
Mentally, Elrond drew the picture that would greet him if he turned. There would be an embroidered emblem on his chest, twelve glowing stars set in a square, and a mithril band weaved through his tresses. His blue eyes would pierce, and his bright smile alight the room he filled with his presence alone. He would ooze self-aware power, casting a piece of his soul forward to encompass the other in a comfortable wrapping of sympathy and interest. With his apparent ease and carefully studied nonchalance he could captivate anyone and make them submit to his every wish without a protest, even gratefully. It was an indispensable quality for a king.
Elrond shifted his weight to both feet, legs a little apart, instinctively taking up the position of a warrior awaiting a fight.
As if he had suddenly become aware of his presence, the king turned around and they faced each other. Elrond's mouth twitched involuntarily when he observed that Gil-galad looked exactly as he had expected, except for the expression on his face, and the utter lack of his usual radiance.
His face bore no smile. His lips were pressed tight. The long journey was etched in lines around his eyes and mouth, and his complexion had a pale sheen that suspected of illness. He was twisting the ring on his forefinger.
When his gaze fell upon Elrond it was as unsettling as it had ever been, and tiny shivers travelled along his sinews emerging at his skin and leaving it tingling. Curiously, Elrond's body decided to leave its reactions to that. His heart did not jump, his stomach made no somersaults, and there was not even a tiny flutter in his midriff. He felt oddly detached, a detachment that in the many scenarios his mind had played out for such an occasion, had never been a factor. It was difficult to decide whether it disappointed or relieved him.
He set a few steps in the room, and, more than happy to break their eye-lock, brought his hand to his brow and heart in a gesture of reverence while taking a short bow. "My lord king. Welcome to Imladris."
"Are we not past such formalities, Elrond?" Gil-galad's reply came, curt and cutting.
Elrond dropped his pose immediately. "May be, Ereinion." Not even the ease that guided his tongue to speak his name could affect the gentle coolness he felt inside. His dispassionate state even prevented the retort that was on his tongue for a moment.
"Either way, I thank you. It's good to be here again. It has been a long time." It was said neutrally, but there was a vast world of meaning behind it.
"Yes," Elrond simply said. "You have not come alone?"
Gil-galad lifted both eyebrows. "Of course not. Impulsiveness is to be lauded, but not if acted upon irresponsibly." He paused and regarded Elrond sharply. "But I am certain you were fully aware of my arrival, including the name of each and every one of my companions."
Elrond simply inclined his head in acknowledgement, deciding that ignoring the first part of the king's statement would best serve his peace of mind. Instead he proceeded to inform after the king's journey, the state of the road, the weather.
Gil-galad's replies to his inquiries were short and stiff, his impatience clearly evident. Elrond watched the king begin to ramble through the room, aimlessly picking up items from shelves and tables, fidgeting with them in his hands and putting them down again. While Gil-galad was fingering a sealed scroll and his eyes wandered about the room, settling on everything but him, Elrond was told he came accompanied by six riders, among them Erintilion, the Noldorin elf who had been a good friend to Elrond in Lindon and who was now Master of the Horse. When Elrond expressed a wish to see him, he learned he was tending to the horses and would be resting afterwards, but was sure to be available tomorrow.
With Elrond having run out of questions and Gil-galad not volunteering any more topics, there was a pause in their conversation. This was the point where there was nothing left to communicate, and the next subject was either trivial or terribly important.
Muffled sounds from the outside could be heard and a bird tried his best to enliven the atmosphere near the arched window, but none of it really registered with Elrond. In the long oppressing silence that followed he felt his pulse quicken involuntarily. Although he did what he could to suppress it, anxiety crept up as his focus narrowed and fixed on the other, who had paused in front of one of the arched windows, his hands clasped behind his back, staring outside. Elrond waited for the moment when he had gathered enough courage to ask what he wanted to know most of all - and yet dreaded to hear.
"My lords? There is a cold meal waiting for you in the Hall, if you wish for it." A soft voice coming from the doorway made them both turn sharply. Framed by sunlight streaming in from outside a light figure of a fair elf woman stood with her hands folded.
Startled at the interruption, Elrond was quick to smile at her. "Thank you, Iocanthe. I think some food could be beneficial." Turning back to Gil-galad, he added, "You must be hungry, my lord."
Within moments the king's expression had changed completely, from irritable weariness to benevolence tinged with admiration. His smile was directed at the woman in the doorway, who seemed quite unfazed but for the slight blush that crept up her cheeks. "I am," he acknowledged. "But first, my lady, would you accompany me if I take a little turn in the garden up front? Imladris has altered much since I have last been here, and I wish to acquaint myself with it. Would you care to show me?"
Iocanthe neighed her head. "Of course, my lord. It is quite beautiful at this time of the season."
Gil-galad, eyes still trained on her, moved forward. "I will be there later, Elrond." Without so much as a glance he followed Iocanthe outside and was gone.
It took Elrond several deep breaths to calm himself enough to finally break his immovability. He sat down in a large armchair and rested his head in his hands, the question he had not dared to ask burning in his mind.
Why have you come?
For a long while he stayed as he was, deep in thought.
Elrond did not know when he had turned from sensitivity to become a pragmatic ruler. Consciously, regrets played no part in his life, because he would not take the risk of allowing them to guide him. Regrets were futile to an elvish life. The aeons produced so many occasions for it, it was his conviction that succumbing to them would paralyse him to an extend he could not afford.
It did not even shock him anymore to acknowledge that he had sacrificed his lust for life to duty, and he was very well aware that somewhere along his path he had lost a crucial part of his being. His interests, his dreams, his desires; all of the attributes that had defined him for an age were now set into stone, immovable, cold and hardly alive.
Elrond Half-Elven, twin brother of Elros Tar Minyatur, loremaster, herald to the High King, Lord of Imladris, healer. Were any of these epiteths still warranted?
Elros was long gone, leaving behind only traces of readily accessible memories and a slight hollow feeling in his stomach where his love and anger had been. He had forgiven him, believing he owed him his grace, but he could not forget his words and actions had set a train of events in motion that had led him where he was now. Nevertheless Elros, his brother, had faded to grey, to paper and history in the books that filled his library.
Lord of Imladris, haven and refuge for the hurt and weary, safekeep of elven kin – the place where he hid and bode his time. Lore and healing had become part of his duty there and had long lost their attraction.
Herald of the king… An empty title, ever since the last time his services had been called upon in Eregion, long ago. He delivered his reports and received directions in turn, written words of polite distance in the King's voluptuous handwriting. At times it would contain a personal inquiry; a short added sentence at the end of a long list of goings-on in Lindon, underlined, meant for him alone. His answer was simple, formal and not devoid of truth: All is well. The first time he had replied to such a query, he went through several drafts before sealing the definitive letter. The careful wording of the short line served its purpose, as further inquiries never came. Until now.
At rare moments of perfect lucidity it had struck him that there was nothing to keep him here. He had toyed with the idea of leaving. Simply hand over the tokens of lordship to one skilful elf or another, cross the Bruinen, and leave the remnants of his shattered life in Arda behind without looking back. An attractive prospect, and yet one of which fear outweighed the relief it could bring. Where was he to go? The sole purpose of such a journey could be to take ship. But in the Uttermost West the judgement of the Valar would await him for breaking the solemn oath he had wilfully sworn. He had nothing to say for himself, no apologies to offer that could possibly appease them. For his honour or his character he cared not, and of pride he had hardly any left. But the decisive argument was infinitely more base: he did not want to be forced to explain himself. He was not sure he could.
But neither was he prepared to completely forsake the life he had chosen long ago. He would admit to weakness and perhaps being wrong, but not to the extent of seeking out Mandos' Halls – even if they would prove to be open to one of his kind.
No, to all his options he preferred to do his duty, try and fulfil his oath, be alone, and hide behind the sturdy walls he had erected and called home. Apathy, mayhap, was to be chosen over anything that could ripple the curtains meticulously drawn to hide his past actions, and lay them bare to scrutiny.
The garden was lovely. Later, if asked, Gil-galad knew he would not remember a single statue, flower or shrubbery that had been pointed out to him. The only remaining memory was of shards of conversation with Iocanthe, who had spoken to him little but in a soothing voice. Its musical tones were contrasting sharply with his rapidly darkening mood, but he was careful that she would know nothing of his grimness. So he concentrated on asking the right questions at opportune moments. He was not certain she did not take up on his absentmindedness, but it could be attributed to a tiring journey and she was too polite to say anything about it.
He had immediately recognised the shy Sindarin elf from Ost-in-Edhil who had expressed a wish to stay in Imladris instead of returning to Lindon with him. She had said she had always wished for a more pastoral place to live, which she preferred to the confinement of the walls of a city. She had grown into being a skilled herbologist and, no doubt, a great aid for Elrond here.
Elrond, Elrond, Elrond. After moments of sharing the same space in the flesh, the urge to flee his presence had become irrepressible. There was the shock it had been to see him, so utterly composed, so untouchable. A beautiful stranger and yet so familiar.
During the perfunctory greeting, their lack of connection was… grating. Instantly he had doubted his motives for coming here, immediately he had been convinced of his imminent failure. When he had seen Elrond stand there, so completely dispassionate, he had nearly choked and he lost every incitement to cross the bridge that divided them and tell him why he had come. The next moment incontrollable anger was pulsing hot through his veins, and that had made him run out before he'd do or say something he would regret for the rest of his life.
Had Elrond's change been this profound?
Gil-galad grit his teeth and willed himself to pay attention to the woman who stepped lightly beside him, indicating a vast sod that was covered with shrubs and low plants.
"This part of the herb garden is no more than ten years old. After the flooding of the south banks of the Bruinen some twelve years ago we noticed that some of the more important herbs had ceased to grow there, so we decided we needed to manufacture an environment for them to thrive in. This is what we did here." Iocanthe's voice flowed, and he nodded along with her words. Suddenly she paused, halted and looked at him. "My lord, you must be tired and hungry."
"Yes," he said - too quick. He recovered himself. "Thank you, this was lovely. It is good to see you have settled in so well. You seem happy and fulfilled here."
With a smile, she replied, "I am. Imladris is a good place for those who have seen too much of the world for comfort."
"Yes," he said again, then paused. "I will go and refresh myself. Would it be possible for me and Lord Elrond to have a supper on one of the terraces? For two?"
"I can see to that," she said. "Your rooms are ready, as always. My lord," there was a slight hesitation and she dropped her eyes before looking up again, "it is good you have come. Peace be with you." After some moments of silence she turned, and was gone.
With a sigh he began to make his way to the upper level, over winding stairs and through broad corridors. Having arrived at the apartment reserved for him, he found himself mulling her words. It is good you have come. Was it? This evening he would surely learn the answer. If only he could evoke some kind of response in Elrond instead of this maddening indifference. Anything would do. Anything at all.
As he slowly put on his clothes for the evening - breeches, tunic, boots and, with some hesitation, the mithril band - he readied himself for a confrontation.
This wait was no different from the others, he reminded himself. For years he had waited, at last almost believing nothing would ever happen, and he had been prepared for it for just as long. This evening would not be very different from any other. Supper, topics to discuss... Pacing his library, Elrond tried to recover his patience and steel himself.
Suddenly his eye was caught by movement at the door. He turned to see Gil-galad, languidly stretched out against a doorpost, with a relaxed air.
"Come in," he said, immediately feeling foolish as Gil-galad raised an eyebrow, their mutual change in stature keenly felt. He pressed his lips together.
"There is supper waiting for us at one of the terraces. I came to ask for your aid, I seem to have lost my way up there." A slow smile curled his lips as he looked invitingly at Elrond, who did not smile in return, but instead kept silent. "I admired your skills in the garden. In fact, everything here seems to bear your mark, as I always knew it would. You are a master crafter. You possess the hands for it, long digits and sensitive skin…" Releasing the doorpost, Gil-galad began to walk up to him.
"Why are you here, Ereinion?"
The sound of Elrond's voice stopped him in his tracks. His smile faded as he looked him straight in the eye, and the other returned his gaze without a blink.
Not averting his eyes, Gil-galad now crossed the room until he stood before Elrond and stated, "I want you to come back to Lindon with me."
Ever since he had known about the upcoming arrival of the High King, Elrond had been drawing up a list of possible reasons for this surprise visit. Although he had tried to rationalise it into unlikeliness, this was the first one he had come up with. The whole venture was so perfectly in character. Inward, he sighed.
"Because I have need of you there." Unflinching, they watched each other. The king had a hand span over Elrond in statue, but the latter had a way of appearing taller than he was, compensating length with posture. Something he tried now to exploit to its full advantage.
"In what function?"
"As my herald. Which you are."
"You have no need of me unless war is brewing, which I know is not in the near future."
"And my counsellor."
"Do you not have enough dallying around you? I would expect you to wish for less, not more."
A light smile crept over Elrond's face, but Gil-galad's look was dark. "Stop the deterring, Elrond," he shot.
"If you object to evasions, you should contemplate being frank with me," the half-elf replied immediately, his voice chilly.
The king raised his chin, eyes narrowing slightly. "If you insist I will draw it out for you. Threefold and in writing, if you wish. I have need of you as my mate."
For one flicker of a moment, Elrond imagined him complying. A series of images flashed through his mind. Then the rush slowed down on one still, an imagined scene – but always the same one. He knew how it would be. He had lived it.
"Elrond, I am sorry. I did not mean..."
"Yet you said it." I feel cold...
"You know I need you more than air to breath."
"No. You do not. Isn't it as obvious to you as it is to me?" Can I lie to you?
"There is nothing more I can do. You know what I am. You cannot ask more of me."
"You just do not choose to give more. It is your choice to make, Ereinion. Yet you refuse to make it." Please hold me.
"All right. If you insist on forcing my hand, have it as you wish. I will leave you now."
"No." Elrond's refusal was voiced low and firm.
"I have not yet properly asked." One corner of Gil-galad's mouth curled upwards.
"Do not jest, Ereinion. Please. It will not help."
Gil-galad's eyes narrowed slightly and the smile was gone. "I would beg you if that would help."
"I would not let you."
A familiar exasperation rose in Elrond's breast. He did not want to do this, ever again; this energy-sucking play of words, starting out as teasing jest, but throughout the years so often turning into a grim challenge and far more serious than any of them would admit. In the end it had always left him edgy, doubting, and worn out – and, he suspected, not just him.
Gil-galad made a move as if he was going to sink on his knees.
Elrond's hand lashed out, gripped his arm and jerked him upwards. "Don't!"
They stood close, staring at each other with widened eyes. Then Elrond saw the defiance on Gil-galad's features slowly fading away, leaving nothing but traces of tired sadness. He relinquished his hold on the king's arm and watched as the tension in his shoulders slowly faded.
"Don't," he repeated softly.
Gil-galad, his head bowed, raised a hand and rubbed his eyes. From behind his hand Elrond heard him mutter words his ears did not quite catch.
Elrond said nothing. After a minute he spoke again. "Shall we eat? "
"Yes." Gil-galad heaved a long sigh. "Yes."
"You promised never to leave me, you know. Vowed."
They were sitting on one of the vast verandas, looking out over the pale beauty that coloured Imladris in pastels, the water of one of the streams singing in the background. The serenity of the scene contrasted sharply with the contents of their minds, yet it was soothing. They had scarcely spoken during supper, but the peacefulness affected them and had taken the biting edges off their conversation, and rendered it a certain degree of lightness.
Elrond, quite relaxed, mused for a while, bringing the glass to his lips and languidly tasting the wine on his tongue. "I vowed I would not leave until we had defeated Annatar together. And I didn't. I am here still and I am still at your service. "
"That is not what I meant. You know that."
"Still, I did not leave you. You took your leave and closed the door."
"Semantics, Elrond," Gil-galad reproached. He leaned back in his chair, eyes half-lidded, one hand behind his head.
Elrond chuckled. "I thought that was your talent."
"Let us say I taught you well. You've become quite apt."
A short silence fell. Anyone who would watch them now would say they were old friends, Elrond thought, sharing the comfort of a long acquaintance that did not need many words to affirm itself. It was curious that what lingered underneath that tranquil surface was something so strong and potentially so violent it could tear apart lives.
"I can order you to come back." Elrond was pulled out of his thoughts by Gil-galad's calm statement. "Remember, I am your king."
"How could I forget. But even you, oh mighty king, can't change the world or our place in it." The playfulness of his tone did nothing to hide the bitterness in his words.
Gil-galad carefully put his glass back on the table and quickly put his hand on Elrond's. "I would. For you."
"You can't. " Elrond tried desperately to restrain himself, but felt himself heat up and the tension he had so far kept at bay, return. "And why try now? You never did before." Inward, he groaned.
"And I regret that more than anything."
"No regrets, Ereinion. There's no use."
"Regrets are dangerous," Gil-galad quoted, mimicking. "I remember your philosophy. All too well."
"And although it does not aid us this time, I still believe in it."
"How did it come to this, love?" Gil-galad asked, softly. He looked at him from aside, dark eyes overflowing with tenderness.
The swiftness of his mood-changes, the sudden flares of temper and emotion. As long as he knew him, Elrond would never get used to them. He felt trapped in the gaze and he closed his eyes in a quiet defence. The fingers were softly rubbing his, and he did not pull away.
The explanation, Elrond need not consider. He had repeated it over and over again to himself, to the river, to the trees, into the darkness of his empty room. Now that the tension had faded, this was a real question and no longer a challenge, to which he could word the answer with sincerity for he had rehearsed it till perfection.
"I love you so much. You are the air that I breathe, the fire in my soul, the water to my thirst. You are everything I ever wanted, even when I did not know it existed yet. What have you done to me? I am not myself. I never knew myself before you came." Elrond shuddered under his lover's soft ministrations.
"You speak strong words for one so young, my love." Gil-galad sighed, turning over on the bed to meet his eye. They were ensconced in silence, noises from the outside not reaching their ears. It was as if the world held its breath to leave them in peace, and no one, for these long hours here, existed outside of them. "You are more yourself than you now know. But you will get to know your heart, as I do mine. You will learn the way of duty and desire, the dictations of your soul. Let me teach you."
"I want nothing more than you for you to teach me." Elrond had meant the words to sound flirtatious, but they sounded serious, and honest.
"I will. I will teach you, and you will be with me, and you will stay at my side, and together we will build a world to our liking..."
"It was through our own hands." He drew a deep breath. "We fought so hard, so terribly hard. We battled the world that was against us. We battled anyone who would cross us. We battled each and every one that would deny us what we wanted. And nothing and no one would yield, in the end." Elrond swallowed hard, crude and unwanted memories invading him like a flood. "It was only a matter of time, Ereinion, until we would fight each other. We let bitterness enter into us, into our lives and our souls. And it left nothing but ruins." Gil-galad's nails bit into the palm of his hand, wryly punctuating Elrond's words. "It's too late, Ereinion," Elrond said, pleading now. "It cannot be repaired. And please, stop trying."
"You do not want us to repair it?" Gil-galad withdrew his hand, and picked up a grape which he absentmindedly rolled about between two fingers, then brought to his mouth. He seemed withdrawn, his face expressionless.
"It does not matter what I want," Elrond said.
Gil-galad put down his glass quite abruptly. "I am tired and will retire for the night. I will leave you to yourself." With a soft sound of silky cloth, he got up, turned, and was gone from the terrace.
Ithil had risen and traversed the best part of her path when Elrond at last followed him inside.
Despite his exhaustion, Gil-galad hardly rested that night. From the window of his spacious apartments, appointed to him specifically for their comfort and their view, he could oversee most of the terraces including the one they had previously occupied. Unmoving, he stood, partly hidden by the window drapes, watching the dark but shining figure of his herald and one-time lover beneath him, until he saw him rise and enter the house. Then he withdrew, laid himself on the canopied bed, and succumbed to a dreamlike state that, this night, held no comfort and no rest.
One of the ideas in this story is not entirely mine, but is heavily influenced by the first elfslash fic I ever read and adored, Implacida's Heart & Body series, a fantastic Haldir/Celeborn story arc (note: strong warnings for (sexual) violence apply for the very first part).
Dawn had not yet broken when Gil-galad rose. He dressed himself speedily and without much care. He did not even touch the plate with fresh fruits someone had placed on the bedside table, but walked out of the room on quiet feet and closed the oaken door behind him without a sound.
The household had not awoken yet. Swiftly and purposefully he made his way over narrow stony paths down, crossed the bridge over the stream, and followed the steps winding up in southern direction, amidst the trees. He breathed in the chill night air. Traces of warmth and humidity were announcing another hot day. He heard the nightly animals seeking their way to their nests and holes, retreating from the night to make place for the various creatures of day that were slowly awakening and made their presence known through incidental sounds. It was the magical moment when everything grows dim and still, when night birds cease their singing and wind dies down, approaching morning covers everything in a blanket that muffles the sound, and leaves and grass turn from grey to green in the light of the morning star.
Eärendil shone brightly in the East, illuminating the windings of the stream below. He felt his presence in the sky more than usual and quelled the urge to hide from him. Instead he set himself against a tree and looked upon the valley below. The more he looked, the more it took the likeness of a prison.
The time to break fast had passed when he set foot in the houses again. Though every one went about their business as usual, his appearance caused a subdued stir. Glances were thrown his way. Some of the more bold or more curious came up to him for introductions, until he was surrounded by a small group of elves of various origin. It did not escape him that a couple of elves stood apart and seemed to make a point of not revering to him, although they all stayed close and intermittently set defiant eyes on him.
At this moment he didn't feel like engaging them. He knew them. There were Noldor who refuted his claim to the kingship, and then there were Sindar who had not much love for the Noldor altogether. Apparently in Imladris they'd found some common ground. It was a strange alliance, and if not preoccupied, he wouldn't have hesitated to point that out to them. But then this was not his realm, it was Elrond's. If anyone had the means and background to forward such friendships – if that's what they were – it was Elrond, and he was just one to try it. He wondered if he should feel threatened.
Mentally he shrugged and decided it did not matter. If these were elves that wished to see another hold the High Kingship of the Noldor they were not alone, and he had dealt with others before them.
Before he had any chance to decide how to handle the situation, he was approached by a tall, bulky elf, clad in light armor. "My lord! It is certainly good to see you." The elf clasped his shoulder amicably.
Gil-galad's face lit up at the sight of him. "Argon! I should have known I would find you here." Argon had been his first lieutenant in the host for Eregion, serving directly under Elrond's command. Without ever stating it outright, Gil-galad had sent him with Elrond as much as his right hand as his protector and guide. Argon had lived through the destruction of Beleriand and was the most experienced he could find. Moreover, he was thoroughly loyal, trustworthy and would not hesitate to state his opinion if he judged it was needed. Or be forceful in arguing it. He smiled. "You haven't left your post."
"Of course not." Argon looked at him directly. "But you, my lord, have you come to reclaim your realm? We had almost forgotten about our far-away king, you know." He looked around him and lowered his voice. "Some of your loyal subjects here do not mind living on your border and not within it, if you know what I mean."
A breath of fresh air he still was. Gil-galad chuckled. "I need not be reminded. But come, Argon, tell me of yourself. How have you fared?"
"Smoothly. After narrowly surviving the last ruination I'm quite happy to live in relative peace. We have our challenges, of course. But these borders are well protected. If Lord Elrond needs a hand, he has me. I am First Warden of Imladris. Though I am not sure whether that was a dismissal by you or a promotion by him."
"The latter. And I was aware of it, if that soothes your conscience."
Argon looked unconcerned. "It does. It pained me, but I am satisfied. Come, my lord, you look like you are in need of direction amidst the rubble. I will separate weed from chaff for you, if you will."
For a greater part of the morning he met, was introduced, and was left again, amidst a constant flow of elves coming and going. Trying to keep his composure at Argon's quick asides muttered under his breath, he took upon him an air of benign, if slightly condescending friendliness, useful for the occasion and generally accepted. Sometimes he had to feign interest in general matters, but he was attentive to detail and quickly assessed who played which part and how they should be handled. He knew that many he met that morning would be satisfied. Some even would marvel at a king who they found was so easy to approach. It almost put his mind away from Elrond.
After midday, when food had appeared apparently out of nowhere and Argon had left him, he took time to explore outside the Great House alone. When he observed the activity everywhere around him, his preoccupation made way for astonishment. Although nothing seemed to disturb its equanimity, not even his arrival, there were hardly idle hands to be found in Imladris.
He saw vegetables being harvested, messengers setting out and arriving, weapons being forged in smithies, meals being cooked in great kitchens. He saw just-dyed wool hanging out to dry, great tapestries being packed up to be sent to markets in neighbouring realms, rope being woven for riders and carriages. And he knew, from Elrond's missives, that all around them there were sentries and guards whose watchful eyes saw all, and that most of the elves he encountered had been trained to take up arms in case of danger – to Imladris, or elvendom on earth – and would.
He couldn't help but be awed by the efficiency of the place. By the elves he encountered who halted, paid respects, and moved on to perform whatever task was laid upon them. By the great works that were done with apparent ease: he saw the many hands that were copying books in the Great Library, to be sent out in all directions afterwards. He saw the many hands who were tending others in the Houses of Healing, famed for their skill far and wide, under the careful tutelage of the lord, of whom they all spoke with reverence.
The sun had travelled three quarters of its path when he left the Houses of Healing, deep in thought. He had not seen Elrond anywhere, but he suddenly felt the urgent need to seek out his lover.
For he had one question he could not find an answer to. When others seemed to enjoy Imladris so much, why did he think its peace so oppressive?
Elrond had not dared to venture out of his quarters. Imladris would run without him this morning, Erestor was more than capable of taking over his duties. After sunrise he had found that Gil-galad was out and about among the inhabitants of Imladris, asking questions, telling stories, bestowing smiles and winning hearts. And though he was certain his absence would be noted, the last thing he wanted was to bear witness to the event.
He hadn't slept very long, and when he'd closed his eyes he had dreamt furiously. It was as if a door had been opened to a room that held memories he'd tried to repress, and now his mind was flooded with them. He sat by the window and stared outside, only seeing and hearing what his memory brought forward.
"Elrond! You allow yourself too much!"
"Do I? Have I not a right?"
"You do not!" Gil-galad's voice came thundering, and Elrond was dumbstruck. "We are together in this, Elrond, but that will not, ever, change our respective positions!" Every word that came lashing through the air hit Elrond like a flog. "I am your King! You are my herald! I will take no orders from you. You have tried my patience forever, and I begin to think I have indulged you! "
All Elrond's defiance had gone. He was trembling.
Gil-galad's voice retook its normal level, but the anger still spoke clear from his words. "Do not take advantage of the love I bear you, my child." The old term of endearment had none of its usual tenderness. "You are bold and clever and quick, but you will never think or decide for me. Do not interfere in this. This is my realm and I do whatever needs to be done to protect it."
Elrond remembered the evening as if it was yesterday. The formal dinner with the large party of visitors, and among them, the family of an eligible maiden who hoped to form a permanent bond through marriage. His own growing indignation when their motives became clear to him, and his irritation at Gil-galad's calm acceptance of their overtures. How he afterwards, in his own rooms, had angrily tried to force a promise from Gil-galad: that he would not ever marry. And how the king had responded.
The aftershocks of the scene had rippled through their relationship for weeks afterwards, resulting in Gil-galad banning him from his rooms at night for an undecided period of time. When he was once again allowed back he'd clung to him in desperation; every day after he'd lived in fear of Gil-galad's announcement of marriage to the maiden. It hadn't come. But, as time soothed his anxiety, he could not triumph, for it was not a victory.
In those times, now long ago, he'd known nothing of politics. But since then he'd shed his naiveté. He had his own realm now. He'd learned that a realm needed stability to be safe. In times of war and upheaval, stability took protection, alliance, and a guarantee of continued leadership. It took heirs. And he had learned that politics demanded the forfeit of emotion; the personal to be sacrificed. What he didn't know was whether he'd ever truly accept it. But it did not matter. He had made the sacrifices. And so had Gil-galad, for as long as he had known him.
For the first time in long years he felt the spectre of bitterness looming darkly over him, anger piercing sharp through his calm, the collectedness that had surprised him only yesterday – had it been only a day? - threatening to shatter as crystal thrown on rocks. He breathed in and out, very slowly, trying to steady himself and fighting for control. This couldn't happen now. Not now. It couldn't.
"Not now, Malgor." Gil-galad sounded terse. He stood with his back to him, leaning with two arms on the table that was covered in scrolls.
Elrond hesitated, lingering at the open door. "I am not Malgor."
Gil-galad turned his head slowly and straightened, the tension in his face fading away as it was replaced by a welcoming smile, true and warm. His blue eyes shone bright, and Elrond felt a tingle in his stomach. "You are a sight for sore eyes, Elrond. You cannot imagine what an excruciating day this has been."
"I could, if you would tell me," he tried, lightly. "Do you not want to unburden yourself?"
It only took five long steps for Gil-galad to reach him. Coming up close, he put both hands on Elrond's shoulders, a smile still on his face. "And burden this young body with tales of feuds and discord instead? No, I'd rather have you close by me so that you can tell me what the day was like for those fortunate enough to have enjoyed it outside these walls. I could use a distraction."
Looking up at him, at the radiance in his features, the tenderness in his eyes, remembrances of the night before sent shivers through Elrond's spine. He could see that Gil-galad's thoughts were similarly engaged and that there was no hesitation in them. A part of him felt relieved; the tension that he hadn't known he'd felt abated. It was all still there. Everything was as it had been when he left him only this morning, after a long night that had seen a change in both: his bold confessions, Gil-galad's acceptance, his submittance and their mutual expressions of love, spoken in whispers almost too soft to hear.
Love. The mere thought threatened to overwhelm him. But he managed to regain just enough composure to reply, and switch to a flirtation that was more comfortable to him than to express what he truly felt. "I will provide any distraction you wish for, my lord. I am yours to command." He lifted his eyebrows and smiled a crooked smile.
"You'll be the undoing of me." Suddenly strong arms were folding him in a powerful embrace. Soft lips nipped at his throat, and a voice he would forever remember spoke tender words in his eager ears. "I missed you. You shouldn't have left me! Oh, my child, how I craved for your touch..."
"I am no child," he whispered, urgently. "But I will stay with you, forever if you want me to. Tell me that's what you want. Order me to stay with you."
"No. No orders. But I want you to belong to me. If only..."
No. No! Emerging from the memory, Elrond fought for composure. Though he purposefully hadn't revisited it for long, this was the one moment he'd felt happiest in his life. He wanted to catch the memory and keep it and not have it tainted by whatever had come next, by impossibilities and doubts and anger. But he didn't seem to be able to. And if even the thought of his happiest moments wasn't able to contain the currents of emotion, whatever was?
He tried to force his mind to seek safer grounds, anything, any sense of the peace he'd held for so long. He scrambled to find it. Until suddenly a piercing pain shot through him, as fierce as if he had been stabbed. Outside, far away yet echoing through the valley, he heard a thundering rush.
The stable door flew open and a small group of elves ran out, guiding several white steeds. They were heavily armed. Quick as lightning they mounted their horses and trotted away in southern direction.
"What is happening?" Gil-galad stood in the middle of the great courtyard where he had been talking to Argon. Just moments earlier, a bell had tolled.
Argon's expression was alarmed. "A dam was breached and the river is rising. Soon the Ford will flood and the main road will be blocked."
Gil-galad frowned. "Is this suspect?"
Argon began to walk to the stable, shouting short commands. "Mardil! Go inform Lord Elrond. Tell him the sentries have been sent out and the engineers are preparing to see to the dam. We're doubling the watch, and the Second Company will ride out when they are ready. You will join them when you come back. Mardanel, gather your company." Several elves hurried away. Gil-galad followed Argon into the stables, where there was a burst of activity. He could hear tension in the voices around him, though little words were spoken.
"It is unexpected, for we haven't seen snow in two moons and the basin wasn't full. We can't rule out foul play. That would be foolish." Argon stopped in front of a large dark mare.
"No sentry has reported sight of them for a long time. Still..." He put a blanket on the mare's back and began to fasten her bridle.
Gil-galad nodded. "Go do what you must. I'll go find Lord Elrond."
With a sideways glance at the king Argon said, "I suspect he will be on his way here already, my lord. He knows the river better than any of us. The bell isn't there for his benefit."
Making his way out of the stables in the direction of the Great House, Gil-galad couldn't shake the thought that there had been a hidden meaning in Argon's words. When he ran up the stairs to Elrond's chambers, a new idea took form in his head. He'd never before contemplated it, but was it possible? It could be. It was in his blood, after all - Thingol and Melian's blood. And he had never known, even suspected...
The library was empty. He tried several other rooms, until eventually he heard Elrond's voice coming to him from his study. "The breach is only small. But it needs to be mended before the gap becomes too big. Go. Tell Argon I will follow."
"Aye, my lord."
The elf with the name of Mardil passed him at the door and ran outside. Elrond stood by the window, his back turned to him, framed by the sun that was reflected on his shining dark hair.
"Elrond." Gil-galad walked up to him and laid a hand on his shoulder. Elrond flinched and spun round. When his eyes met Gil-galad's they were stormy and unfocussed, shining with a feverish light. He was swaying slightly on his feet and looked dishevelled. Of the control that Gil-galad had wished so much to shake only yesterday, there were now no traces left. But he couldn't feel relief. Furrowing his brow in concern, he took him by both shoulders. "Elrond? Tell me what is going on," he said, his voice softly commanding.
Elrond closed his eyes. "The river..." He spoke with effort. "Rocks came away and the ford is flooded. The pressure became too high." Opening his eyes again, he let out a shuddering breath.
"You are in pain." He stated it matter-of-factly, but nevertheless he was surprised. His earlier suspicions only rose to near-certainty. "What can I do?"
"You?" Elrond said, sounding surprised. "You can do nothing." The bright red of his tunic was moving fast with his laboured breathing.
"No. Later. Please, I need to..." And without another word, Elrond walked swiftly past him out of the room.
Gil-galad watched him go, in a whirl of red and light and with a desperately pleading look from silver eyes not to ask any further. Little though he knew of such things, Elrond's clear distress did nothing to soothe his earlier suspicions - or his worry. But Elrond wouldn't tell him. Well, he still needed to know. As his king, this was his business too. And as his lover...
Straightening his back, he purposefully followed him to the stables.
When Gil-galad's horse was finally ready, Elrond was already gone and he only vaguely knew the direction he'd taken. Cursing under his breath he led his stallion to the winding path west, then leaned forward and whispered in his ear, "Follow him. He is alone. Be quick!" The horse fell into a trot, then a gallop. Together they made their way up to the river, slightly north of the Ford. When the trees hanging over the path thinned and he heard the roar of water, they slowed down and eventually stopped.
Elrond's steed stood under a lone tree. Gil-galad looked around until he spotted Elrond himself, standing like a statue on a large rock on the riverbank, his face turned toward the wild waters. Further upstream he saw what must be the breach: a freshly made waterfall came out between large rocks, dropping in the river that had turned white from turmoil. On quiet feet he came closer, silently watching the scene unfolding. Without knowing it, he held his breath.
Elrond didn't seem to notice him. His body was rigid and his arms were hanging by his side. He kept his eyes trained on the fast-flowing waters, and his lips moved in words he spoke under his breath that sounded strangely pleading. Standing tall and commanding, Elrond seemed to glow with a faint silver-blue. Then he finally stretched out one arm, his hand turned down, and spoke a single word. One moment long he seemed to grow even taller, and the silver and blue light engulfed him until he was barely visible, burning white like a flame. Then the light diminished, faded away and disappeared. The waterfall and the river quieted down, until only a trickle of a stream was left coming out between the rocks.
As Elrond turned away from the river, his auburn hair fell over one shoulder and gave Gil-galad a clear sight of his face. He looked tired but peaceful, and there was nothing left of the violent emotion that had been there before he ran outside. His eyes shone clear silver when he looked at him; they seemed to burn, a hint of the naked power he just exhibited still clearly visible. His beauty took his breath away.
Gil-galad stared, completely transfixed. This was not the Elrond he had known, the bold impetuous child, the dedicated scholar, the herald who had always followed his orders and lead. This wasn't even the courageous leader of elves he had sent on the desperate mission to Eregion, or the self-contained, controlled elf he had met yesterday. This was the true revered lord of Imladris, powerful beyond imagining - mighty in his own right.
This... creature - this spellbinding vision - he had loved, but had he ever known him?
Calmly, with eyes that had now dimmed, Elrond looked back at him from his elevated place. Then he jumped off the rock, all controlled elegance, and walked past him to his horse.
On the way back none of them said a word, the only sounds breaking the silence the soft footsteps of their horses' slow pace. Watching Elrond's back, Gil-galad wasn't able to muster anything to say, though he was beleaguered by questions. How had Elrond come to this... this ability? Had it always been in him? Well, he thought wryly, it appeared there was much he hadn't seen and even more that Elrond had never chosen to convey. But any true communication between them had ceased a long time ago. Inside him, anger over being kept in the dark warred with admiration and the surge of love renewed that had coursed through him at the sight of him standing there. So grand. But alien.
Oh Elrond, he thought. You truly have become a stranger.
He had not said a word. Nothing. After they'd handed over their horses to the stablehands, Gil-galad had looked at him once, with unreadable eyes, and then walked up to his rooms. Elrond had expected a barrage of questions, so he was glad. He felt exhausted. What he needed most was a bath, not an interrogation. He would worry about Gil-galad's reactions after he had recharged.
When he entered his bedroom, he saw a shadowy figure standing quietly in the corner. "Erestor."
"Lord Elrond. I have instructed Tirin to have your bath ready upon your arrival. The engineers are expected back from the river after sunset. I’ve left instructions that they meet with you tomorrow, if there’s nothing of urgency to report tonight."
Smiling, Elrond started to unfasten his robe. "Thank you. You take good care of me."
Erestor shrugged, though it was hardly noticeable. "I foresaw you would be tired."
"Drained, actually. Yes, I’ll have a bath now. And a meal afterwards."
"Will you take your dinner alone?" Erestor's voice was neutral.
He hesitated before he said, "Possibly. But if you will, ask Lord Gil-galad if he wants to join me on the top terrace. I will need at least an hour, perhaps two, but if he's willing to wait we can dine together."
"As you wish. I will let you know what he says." After touching his forehead once, Erestor left the room.
If Erestor had any thoughts on the events of today, he certainly didn't betray them. Elrond thought when he stripped himself of the rest of his clothes. Curiosity wasn't his vice and he wasn't prone to ask questions, but he was evidently fully aware what had happened. Though they hadn't spoken about it much, Erestor knew, as few others did, what it took to control the river. Once, when the population of Imladris was still small in numbers, Erestor had happened upon him when he'd tried to force a flood to irrigate a field and he'd almost lost his bearings in the effort. It hadn’t been the first time the river had bursted out of Elrond's control, though it had only happened a few times and less and less over the years past.
He stepped into the bath, lied down with a sigh and let the water envelop him, soothe him. Yes, if anything, he'd learned control here. Control and patience, traits he'd previously been sadly lacking. He'd had to.
Closing his eyes, he tried to empty his mind and relax into the water. Ereinion would have to wait. He needed all the strength he could gather to get through this evening with him.
Gil-galad had been waiting for almost an hour when Elrond finally appeared. He'd alternatingly paced the terrace and sat down, pondering, trying to make some sense of the events of today. Not asking any questions before had been an effort. Now he wanted answers.
Elrond walked slowly, but he looked reinvigorated, if not radiant. Gone was the pale sheen of his skin. His eyes lacked their usual lustre, but his gaze was clear. He was simply dressed, in a silver robe obviously chosen for comfort, and his otherwise unadorned hair was loose but for the two braids by his ears.
Gil-galad didn’t say anything until he sat down on the opposite side of the small table before saying anything. Then he looked him straight in the eye. "It takes a toll on you," he remarked, carefully neutral.
Elrond caught his gaze without blinking. "It does."
No evasions, then. Well, Elrond had invited him up here, probably conscious of the fact that delaying a confrontation now would be delaying the inevitable.
"… which is why I need to eat first, if you don't mind." Without waiting for an answer, Elrond started filling his plate with fish and vegetables.
For a long time they sat quietly together, eating. Gil-galad's whirling thoughts squashed much of his appetite, and he merely nibbled on the food while trying to decide which question to ask first, but Elrond finished the whole fish in what seemed to be mere moments. All the while, nothing disturbed the silence but the sound of the nightbird, a soft voice singing from below, and the rustle of leaves in the dying wind.
Silently, Gil-galad was observing him, until he couldn't bear it anymore. "How did you come to it? What can you do?"
Slowly, Elrond put down his fork, his eyes trained on his hands. He inhaled once, then looked up, very calmly. "I don't fully know yet." He paused. "To a certain extent and under certain conditions I can influence the elements. Earth is the least challenging: she will provide what you need when you treat her well and needs little more than encouragement. Water, the river... She needs tending. The river is not always easy to contain, especially in spring. Today she needed extra guidance, but I was… otherwise occupied." His words sounded carefully measured.
While he did feel a momentary spark of triumph in having his suspicions confirmed, Gil-galad was careful not to betray any emotions. "Go on."
"Air is flighty and better not meddled with. Fire..." Elrond’s eyes flicked past Gil-galad, gaining a wistful expression. "Fire is unruly by character. Fire needs balance. By itself it is uncontrollable for me."
You learned all this and yet you never felt the need to tell me? Gil-galad wanted to say, because it was foremost on his mind. But it seemed inconsequential and petulant to ask such a thing when there was evidently so much more to tell. He hasn’t been my lover for a long time, he reminded himself. So he kept silent, waiting for Elrond to continue, even though his impatience grew.
Elrond did not continue for a long time. Then, leaning back in his chair, he said, "On days when orcs are threatening or natural occurrences are interrupting Imladris, it has proven to be a useful ability. And I can help improve the harvest."
He was downplaying it, Gil-galad realized. The Elrond he knew was not one for false modesty, but what the halfelven described wasn't in accord with what he himself witnessed today: the show of pure, unadultered power that was still vividly on his mind. Elu Thingol was his ancestor. Thingol, king of Doriath, formidable leader of the Sindar, the master craftsman. Thingol, who had lusted after the Silmaril Beren brought him and had brought doom upon himself. And his wife was Melian the Maia, powerful protector of living things. It was their child he had seen on Bruinen’s shore. In all the years he’d known Elrond, it had been too easy to forget.
Elrond was studiously looking away from him, his brow furrowed, his profile sharply outlined against the black night.
“Do you…” Gil-galad hesitated, not knowing quite how to phrase the question that had suddenly popped into his mind when he thought of Melian and the stories he had heard about her. “Do you too… communicate with the land?”
Elrond turned his head suddenly, as if surprised. Looking at him, he waited before speaking. “No.” He paused again. “But I know of the tree on the eastern border that won’t survive the next winter, because it’s ill. I know the family of foxes who play underneath the bushes next to the southern road, where athelas grows. The joys of spring are everywhere, and birds tell me the lands to the east are quiet and they can peacefully care for their offspring. No, the land communicates with me. I…”
He was silent again. Then he stood up abruptly and walked to the banister. Just as suddenly, he turned and looked at Gil-galad with his hand pressed to his chest. “It’s here. I feel it always. Pains and joys, I feel its life. I cannot escape it, as I cannot tread outside my own body. I have to care for it.” He straightened to his full height, again resembling the lord he had grown to be, but Gil-galad noticed he was shaking slightly. “And I will.”
They stared at each other; Gil-galad from his lower seat, Elrond standing, framed by stars that, in Gil-galad’s imagination, seemed to crown him.
Then Gil-galad spoke, quietly. “Is that why you won’t come back to Lindon with me?”
Elrond’s mouth hardened to a straight line. “You don’t understand.” His icy tone could have cut crystal. “You never did, not even when everything around me, everything I was, was all about you.” Then he seemed to soften and grow smaller. He looked away, into the night that lay dark over Imladris. “Now it’s beyond you and me.”
“Elrond. I am sorry.” Gil-galad swiftly walked up to him, laying his hand on his shoulder. “I…” He sighed. “Perhaps you’re right. Perhaps I don’t understand.” Even to his own ears, it sounded uncharacteristically demure. “Will you explain it to me?”
“I am not sure I can.” Elrond’s eyes flicked to the hand on his shoulder, which Gil-galad immediately, and almost guiltily, removed.
He wasn’t about to give up, though. “You never answered my question. How did you come to it?”
Elrond swallowed visibly. Then he breathed in deeply, and out again, and looked up slowly, from beneath his pronounced brow. “Promise me something.”
The boy was standing before him again. Soft, big-eyed, and more fragile than he’d allow, asking him for his love. How could he refuse?
“I will tell you, and nothing will change. You will go back to Lindon. I will stay here. You may not trust me entirely, but I will prove myself trustworthy. You may do what you like, but leave me here, in Imladris. I need to be here.”
“I trust you.”
“You say so. But you will not after I am finished with my tale. It does not matter. I will keep your eastern border for as long as is necessary.”
“Elrond, I cannot fathom…”
"Promise me." Then he added, more softly, "Please."
"You have my promise." But I will somehow convince you I will need to break it.
"Good." He paused. “Do you want to know where I found my power?” Elrond lifted his chin and gazed him squarely in the eye. “It's Sauron who showed me the way.”
Elrond begins his story.
There's a lot of them. Sorry. I'm nervous about this one.
There are quite a few references to Elrond's Incredibly Complicated Family History in this chapter, aka The Silmarillion. I've tried to write it as intelligibly as possible, so that you don't have to know all the minutiae of it to understand what's happening. I hope it works (and that it's right. that too). But just in case I've provided a short explanation below - not really, but all's relative. When it comes to ideas I have to tip my hat to two E/GG fics that delved into the politics of the situation and this relationship in particular: Maybe’s epic On the Shores of Valinor, and Elwing & Claudio’s Will I Always Be? and its follow-up Pride's Cloak (I think the last two are supposed to be pulled, but there are still traces of them on the interweb). Also the bits of AC's Folly of Starlight series that deal with Elrond and Gil-galad. All comments are very welcome, and I don't mind criticism either. Many thanks to Laurelin for sage advice, betaing and perspective.
I think that's it.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
A star looks down at me,
And says: Here I and you
Stand each in our degree:
What do you mean to do, -
Mean to do?
I say: ‘For all I know,
Wait, and let Time go by,
Till my change come.’- ‘Just so,’
The star says: ‘So mean I:-
So mean I.’
“It was Sauron who showed me the way.”
Shock made Gil-galad’s eyes grow wide and his firm jaw go slack. “Sauron?”
With uttermost effort, Elrond managed to remain at least outwardly calm. “Yes.”
“But you... How?” Gil-galad’s eyes were not leaving Elrond’s face, even when took a step backwards and stumbled. Blindly feeling for a chair, he eventually sat down. His next words came out hoarse. “Your distrust was as great as mine. We always faced him together, you and I. Shoulder to shoulder. There was no... He...“ His eyes darted from side to side until they settled on Elrond again, who now saw comprehension in them. “Eregion?”
“What happened?” Gil-galad whispered.
Now Elrond sat himself down, too, carefully gathering his robe around him and folding his hands in his lap, hoping Gil-galad would not notice the tension in them that left his knuckles white. ”I cannot explain it fully until I tell you many things I have never told you before. For that, I have to return to the beginning. It is a long tale, and some things in it pain me to this day, but the time may have come for you to know all. I would just ask you not to interrupt.”
Gil-galad nodded silently.
“The story has to start with Elros. It cannot be news to you that he did not have much love for you. It was not because I chose your company over his, which I know you have always suspected - our paths would have diverged no matter what choices we made. It is true that you fixed my purpose, that you made me… fall in love with elvendom on earth, but Elros and I had parted long before that. I know that now. We were twinned souls, or rather, two aspects of the same soul, but not alike. No, Elros’ grudge against you was a different one, and one he never truly overcame. Elros, you should know, long considered you an usurper.”
Elrond fixed his gaze on a spot at the horizon, feeling Gil-galad’s eyes on him but choosing not to meet them. He spoke softly, but without hesitation. “You may remember that summer he returned from his long journey, the quest for his promised land that had taken years. After he had left me there, in Lindon, I had been angry with him, but soon all my energy was taken up by the challenges of the life we were building in your realm. Even if it was steeped in tragedy and tears, nothing could be more exciting to me than seeing the people, who were my people now, regain their strength, redress old hurts, rebuild the land, in freedom.”
There, Elrond paused. With the mention of Elros’ name, he’d been transported back to that fateful summer’s day and to a place in his mind he’d long refused to visit. It made his heart grow heavy, but he reminded himself that this was just a tale. A tale like any of the innumerable tales he’d told. For a tale to be told well, one did not need to feel the sorrow in it. But while he was speaking, the years fell away. Once again he was a young elf, in nothing yet a lord and, for a time, little touched by hardship, discovering a world in which everything was new. A new life, and new love.
“And then there was you. You were at the heart of it all. And Elros knew it as soon as he set eyes on me.“
~Forlond in Lindon, 2nd Age, the year 18
When we were children and in Maglor’s care, I had often refused to be parted from Elros. I would kick and scream whenever anyone tried. Without his presence I felt I lacked a mirror to my self, showing me who and what I was and was not. The mirror that allowed me to consider every action before it was taken, every word before it was spoken, for I could see it through his eyes as clearly as if they were my own. Without Elros, I used to feel incomplete and vulnerable. Naked.
With Elros a Man and myself one of the Firstborn, all is now different. I can no longer see myself through him.
I have never felt uneasy before in Elros’ company, but everything about him seems unfamiliar. The years at sea have changed him. I see it when he disembarks the ship and walks toward me, with long strides, his hands outstretched and a smile on his carved features. The wind is touching his dark hair, which he wears long, unadorned and unbraided. His clothing is well-worn. The contrast with my glimmering robes and finery could not be sharper. His men, who have waited patiently for him to step on the shore, follow him in silence, watching us with hardly veiled curiosity. When I take his hands his skin feels coarse – the skin of a mariner, weathered by salt and rope and water. I have not been around men very much in my life, and he is a man now, in every aspect. A tall and imposing figure, who wears the signs of his leadership comfortably.
But his bright eyes are still mine when he looks at me. I smile.
“Elrond, my dear brother.”
I disappear in his strong, hard arms. How can this man, who has spent exactly the same time walking the earth as I have, make me feel so young? Perhaps men do mature faster, I think. Perhaps it is because they must.
We spend the day inside the Mariner’s house at the havens, a place of bustling activity and laughter that I feel unfit for. Amidst long songs of elves and tall tales of men, we sit in a darker corner of the hall for the length of the afternoon, talking. Elros spins colourful tales about the sea, about storms and the beauties of the waves and miraculous journeys to the ends of the world. He tells me how the coasts have changed after Beleriand sunk in the sea, and how the sea seems endless now. He can barely contain his excitement when he describes their discoveries at the great island that has arisen in the west. ‘Númenor’, he calls it, West-Land. Simple, but precise. It befits his character.
“It is grand and full of wonders, Elrond,’ he says, eyes bright and arms gesturing widely. ‘Magnificent white rocks, tall mountains, luscious woods with silver trees and wide fields gently sloping. There is space enough for all of us to live in peace and comfort. We will build places of beauty and spirit, like the elves do here in Forlond, and for us the world will be anew."
I watch him silently, in wonder, having never seen him like this. This ‘us’ does not include me, I know. I will lose him to that land. The thought saddens me deeply, though I have grown accustomed to it. He left me before when he took sail, years ago, in his search for the land that was promised to the Edain - and not to me. He left me the first time when we made our respective choices. The third leave-taking will be definitive.
Apparently without noting my discomfort, he asks for my experiences in Lindon, and I am glad to leave darker thoughts behind. Now I feel myself lighting up with pleasure while I tell him about the building, the city, the new settlers, the disputes. I speak of grief but also of new beginnings, of craft and beauty and elegance. I find I mention you often, but I cannot stop. This new life, with you, consumes me. Only after a while I notice Elros’ slight frown whenever he hears your name, his narrowing eyes, his continuing silence while I speak on.
When I pause for a moment, he sighs. “Gil-galad,” he mutters under his breath. The harshness I detect in his tone startles me. Swiftly he turns and gestures at a nearby man to refill our cups. While the man pours, he looks at me, the harshness momentarily gone. “Gil-galad, Gil-galad. Can you sing a different song, Elrond? You are beginning to repeat yourself, and that means doom upon a songsmith like yourself.” It sounds playful, but he does not fool me.
“I… I spend much time with him. I enjoy his… company. He teaches me,” I try, feeling defensive. “But… surely you have no strife with Gil-galad, Elros? He has been good to us. He has been good to me. And if it weren’t for him..."
“Yes, I know. He saved us. A debt that cannot be repaid in a man’s lifespan, though it seems you are doing enough repaying for the both of us. But yes, Elrond, I have a strife with him who has taken the title of High King.”
“Taken? It was granted to him, as well you know. He merely accepted."
“Oh, Elrond, you are my brother and I love you, but when it comes to him your mind is unbelievably clouded. I hear you speak of love. Oh, you may not speak the words, but your whole being speaks plainly to me. No…” He holds up his hand when I try to interject. “I do not mind. If love were all, I would share in your joy, but it is not. As I see it, this is not a story of love - it is a story of power. He beds you and he earns you loyalty." I draw in my breath at this, but he does not hear. "Have you ever even considered he could have other motives for doing that?"
In my cheeks the heat grows. Embarrassment at his crudity mixes with anger swiftly rising inside me. In essence, he is wrong. You do not 'bed' me - though the Valar know I have wished for it. Words of love have been spoken, but, citing my age, you have shown unwavering restraint until now. “I don’t know of what you are speaking,” I bring out, with effort. “You make it sound…”
"Would you deny it, Elrond? Your heart is filled to overflowing. I see his mark upon you."
For the first time, I realise that I have longed for Elros' approval of my love, that I wanted nothing more from him than his blessing, and that I was trying to prepare and placate him with my tales of your deeds before opening my heart to him. I wanted, nay, expected him to rejoice with me.
But to Elros, I see I am transparent. I was not at all prepared for the conversation we are having, the frankness of his words. Now I do not feel inclined to share anymore.
“Let me put it to you plainly. Did it ever occur to you that Gil-galad’s fragile realm depends on your loyalty? Beguiled as you are by his... allurements, have you even once remembered who you are? The house of Finwë is our house, too. By rights, you are Gil-galad’s successor.”
“I know that.” The anger flies hotly through me, and it sounds curt. Once again, I am a child, I think. In the eyes of my twin, no less. He does not know me, I think, and he certainly does not know you. I cannot remember ever to have felt so insulted.
Elros stands up and turns to look at me, but my anger does not seem to register with him. He starts pacing, gesturing with his hands while he speaks, something I have never seen him do before. There is a certain tension in him that is new, a tightness to his skin, as if he can barely contain the energy within it. “But you are more than that. Most of the Sindar will not follow him or even acknowledge the existence of a Noldorin High King in Middle-earth - one of Fëanor’s kin. They have not forgotten the sack of Menegroth and the deaths of their king and queen. Their wrath is still very much alive. There are many, even in Lindon, who live to avenge Dior and Nimloth." He stops, and his voice, which was getting louder, is now low. "And you, Elrond, Dior’s grandson, you could be their leader.”
It is strange to hear him talk with such distance about Dior, as if he himself bears no relation to him. As if my affairs do not regard him. But then, they do not, I think, at least not in the same way they do me. Does he care at all for my happiness?
Trying to regain our equal footing and some of my pride, I stand up too. “I am Noldorin, like him. He is my king.”
“You are and yet you are not. You are as close to royalty as the Sindar have, Elrond, and you are the last of Dior’s house. Do not ever forget that. I am sure Gil-galad hasn’t.” At this, he looks at me pointedly.
"He knows me. He knows I have not the heart for crowns and sceptres, and I do not care for might and power.”
“You have not eighty years to your name. Who knows what life of magnificence you will live? Let me tell you this, Elrond…” He takes a step toward me and lays a hand on my shoulder, punctuating his words with his grip. “The elves in Middle-earth will need to find peace among themselves before long. Their strife and feuds need to be put away for the safety of all the elder race. Gil-galad knows, as well as I, that many a Sindar will never accept leadership from an elf of the race of Kinslayers, before Dior is either forgotten or avenged. Or even then."
“But the Sindar...”
“The Sindar would accept you and forget your Noldorin parentage in an instant, if you were to speak up and declare yourself Dior’s heir.”
I laugh, incredulous. “They will not. If they hate us as much as you say, they will not.”
At my ‘us’ Elros’ eyebrows shoot up. “They need you. Who else is going to lead them? Oropher? He is more vindictive than all of them combined. The discord will be endless. I am not saying it will be easy or painless, Elrond, but you could lead them, and lead them well. Not to avenge, but to bring peace and unity, and to help bury old grudges and feuds. Already you are their champion, in their eyes.”
“So. I could be king of the Sindar. When I come of age and gain some wisdom.” At hearing the sarcasm in my voice Elros frowns, but I ignore it and continue. “And then? The Noldor have a king. I am no threat to Erei- Gil-galad. It is too ridiculous to speak of.”
“It is not. Think, Elrond. In truth, the only reason why he is the High King of the Noldor is because they call him thus. And the only reason why they call him thus, is because they entrusted him with leadership and asked him to command them. He took a title that was offered, but the offer can be retracted at any given time - and will be, given valid inducement. Even among the Noldor there are those who have the wisdom to see that the elves, all elves, in Middle-earth need to unite to survive.” His tone is one of a patient teacher, and it enrages me. “Gil-galad has not yet shown himself the leader to accomplish this - nor am I certain that he truly wishes to make the effort, in his heart, to reconcile Sindar and Noldor. He is first and foremost Noldorin, and he will look to his own people first. Moreover, he lacks a certain kind of… diplomatic trait, if you will, that is sorely needed. He is as impatient as he can be wise. And yes, I grant you, he is wise.” He smiles at my expression, but I am not mollified. “But you can do what he cannot - or will not - simply by the nature of who you are. You, Elrond, are the one who could unite the people. You would not even need a crown. Your existence is a symbol of hope to many, Sindar and Noldor alike." Now he looks straight at me. "Do you not see? The Sindar accept him because you do. As he can ill afford your independence or discord between you, he needs to keep you close. You think you need him, but he needs you, and it is not for reasons of the heart.”
I realise that this is the longest speech I have ever heard Elros make. His old self is truly gone now, and in his place is a leader of Men – a man of action, yes, but with a mind that has evolved in ways that I do not yet know. Or trust implicitly. “You know little of it, Elros." Deciding on a different tactic, I try to speak with authority, lowering and steadying my voice as I have seen you do. "I do love him, and he has told me I am precious to him. But I make my own choices. He claims no ownership of me.”
Elros sighs, his breath visibly leaving his body, and looks at the floor. “I know your regard for him, Elrond," he says softly. "I feel it and I respect it.”
“You do? My ears must have betrayed me.”
“When you chose the Firstborn, you chose him. Do not think I was not aware of that. I have respected your choice, as you have mine. And, distrustful as I am of his motives, I do respect Gil-galad. I simply would hate to see you being reduced to a pawn in the plays of others. I know you think of him as your liege. But never, ever forget who you are, and the duty you have taken upon yourself.”
I sit down and look up at him, a question in my eyes. "My... My duty.”
“Yes, Elrond. Your duty. With our choices came responsibilities. This is your responsibility, and you cannot walk away from it. Your allegiance to Gil-galad keeps you from seeing your own path, and it keeps you from taking care of your people. All of them.”
Suddenly, I nearly choke. “You walked away,” I whisper. I clench my fists in my lap.
“No, I did not,” he says calmly.
“You talk of duty. You are eldest. This was your duty too, but you left it behind - and me. How can you say you did not walk away?” Tinges of bitterness have crept into my voice, bitterness that I thought I'd been able to turn into something sweeter.
He sits down beside me, takes my hand in his and slowly starts to uncurl my fingers. In the eyes, that can be grey as stormy seas, I now see only a glimmer of tenderness. “I walk the paths of men. This is my duty and my fate. We each have our own, Elrond, and we chose it willingly. I follow my path wherever it may lead. You will have to do the same.”
I look at him once, a long look that he holds without saying anything more. I am not trying to hide the hot tears that are running over my face. And then I walk away. Elros follows me, but we are silent when we seek our chambers. The next day we leave together for Forlindon, where he is to stay for a while, but the subject is not broached again.
From that day on, I feel alienated from him. We do not fight and our interactions are not unpleasant, but no meaningful words are spoken between us again until he takes ship to Númenor, to be a leader of his people. I will never forget his parting words to me, spoken in low tones while standing on the deck of his great ship: “Find your own path, Elrond, and follow it to the end of the earth, if necessary. May it be winding, may it be long, but have it be your own. Find your own greatness. And remember me.”
His words haunt me for years. I try to forget them, but I cannot. Never again am I as easy and carefree as I was before that day. He has planted a seed of discord within me, of doubt, and he lit a flame in my heart that I do my best to extinguish, but it won't die out. Still, I feel I am doing right to stay with you . I believe you are the leader of our people that I do not think myself to be. I believe you when you say you love me. As years pass, you prove that Elros was wrong: you do learn diplomacy, and many of the Sindar in Lindon keep a tenable peace with you, except for a few that will never be pacified. But I cannot help but see that in your eyes, I am not your equal. I am young, and your herald, and I serve you, in all ways that matter.
The flame burns more brightly in the night, whispering tales of yore, of Thingol, of Melian, of Dior and the manner of his perishing. In the day, I turn from the fields I used to scour to the vast libraries of Forlindon, where I read tomes in which the histories of my ancestors are written. Word arrives of Elros and the city he has founded in Númenor. My brother, my twinned soul, they have named King Tar-Minyatur. And in the dark at night, when I am alone, I ask myself: who am I?
But even though doubt gnaws at me, I cannot leave. You are my world, my brightest star. And every day, your bonds upon me tighten.
1) Where to start? Everything begins at the Kinslayings, I suppose, and those were all about Silmarils. The short of it: there were three of them, mostly the fault of and all instigated by Fëanor and his sons, and all of them involved Noldor killing Sindar. The first was a large fight between Noldor and Sindar, with many Sindarin deaths. The second took place at Menegroth and killed Dior - Elrond's maternal grandfather, King of Doriath and High King of the Sindar -, and his wife, Nimloth. The third was when Elrond and Elros were babes and their house was attacked. Their mother, Elwing, flew in the shape of a bird, leaving them behind to be captured by the sons of Fëanor. One of them, Maglor, fostered the twins and grew to love them. Years after, Círdan and Gil-galad found the twins and took them with them (and prompted a thousand fanfics).
In the first years of the Second Age, this is all still very fresh. Add to that a war against Morgoth that's only just ended with Beleriand disappearing under the waves, and there must have been many traumatized and on-edge elves around in Lindon those days. So even if Gil-galad was a descendant of one who turned his back on this fight and refused to follow Fëanor, it might not have mattered much to anyone Sindarin. Tempers were frayed.
The title of High King is confusing, because it seems less a hereditary legal position and more a title of respect for the effective leader of the people, although for some it involved a crown. Both Thingol and Dior were called High King of the Sindar, but with them dead, the title is vacant. Before Gil-galad, his (great-)uncle Turgon was High King of the Noldor. Rightfully, Elrond is indeed Gil-galad's heir, as he is a descendant of Turgon. And rightfully, I believe, Elrond is also Dior's heir to his crown, though I haven't seen it mentioned much. There is no one else left of that family and I can';t see a reason why Elrond would be counted among the Noldor and not the Sindar, in exactly the same manner. This is what Elros is referring to.
I like the idea of Elrond as builder of bridges by the simple fact of who he is. There is a lot of symmetry in Tolkien’s stories, and Elrond is the culmination of that. I also like the idea of Gil-galad’s and Elrond’s relationship being highly political – you can see why it would be.
I'm maxing out the notes box here. But finally I want to point to Michael Martinez' essay on Gil-galad (which I unfortunately found only after writing this):
Gil-galad's realm at first must have included Elves from every part of the former Beleriand: survivors from the Falas and Hithlum, survivors from Nargothrond, survivors from Gondolin and Doriath, Fëanorians, and probably even a few Laegrim from Ossiriand and whatever remained of the Avari who had reached Beleriand. Although all was supposed to be forgiven among the Elves, it doesn't seem they could really set aside ancient griefs. The Doriathrim seem to have accepted Gil-galad's rule at first but it was they (apparently) who led the great migration of Sindar away from Lindon.
Sindar began migrating eastward early in the Second Age, but we don't know how early. And their first movements may have been only to settle in western Eriador. Population pressure may have been part of the reason for why they left Lindon. The Elves continued to have families throughout the Second and Third Ages. But it may also be that Gil-galad was influenced by Noldorin policies enough that the Sindar may have felt his realm wasn't for them. Cirdan and the Falathrim had always been friendly with the Noldor, and were in some ways Noldorinized in Beleriand (Finrod had helped to rebuild their cities, for example). The Sindar of Hithlum and Nargorthrond would also have been Noldorinized.
It was the Sindar of Doriath who would be most reluctant to adopt Noldorin customs and culture. And they would also have the hardest time overlooking past griefs, having fought the Fëanorians directly not once but twice. Virtually all the grievances of the Sindar over what they had lost could have been laid at the feet of the Noldor, if it were in them to place blame. So their eastward migration was probably also the result of some antipathy toward the Fëanorians.
2) Forlindon, as a dwelling or a city, is a figment of my imagination. In Tolkien's world Forlindon is simply the north of Lindon. I don't know and haven't been able to find where in Lindon exactly Gil-galad's main seat was. So, in the good ol' tradition of Tolkien, I've made it up.
Elrond's story, continued (it will go on for a while yet).
More politics. Help me, I hope I'm not the only one who likes intrigue. Looking back I have no idea why I ever rated this R/Mature. It's not for the usual, because this is getting more cerebral and less, err, physical by every hundred words or so. Or so I feel. But we'll get there eventually, I'm sure.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Forlindon in Lindon, 2nd age, 98
Though this is meant to be a welcoming feast, there is a palpable tension in the Great Hall of Forlindon, in guests and inhabitants alike. Conversations with the party of visitors are audibly strained, and voices sound subdued.
I watch you, seated at the head of the table, through the light of flickering candles placed all over the wooden surface and illuminating the Hall. I recognise the signs of irritation on your face while you are listening to the elf seated on your right hand: your brow is slightly furrowed and one corner of your mouth is twitching. Others will not see it, but to me it is barely concealed. I do not know what has transpired in the afternoon; the doors were closed and I have been busy with various tasks that, in spite of my protests, were thought to be urgent and I performed grudgingly. As much as I think lightning in my lord's chambers is important and I'm not particularly averse to menial tasks, I could not think of any reason why the lamps should be refilled except to keep me away from today's council.
Now I study the faces of the parties concerned, and I can construe that whatever the conflict has been about, it has not been resolved.
Shortly after the meals are finished you rise and, after a short comment to your neighbouring elf, raise your voice. “Now, let us all turn our minds from the toils of the day and taste some of the delights of the eve under the stars. Tonight is a night for song and music, naught else.” Your eyes roam the room and find mine. You motion me to follow you. I rise wordlessly and move to your side as you walk through the main doors that lead to the Hall of Stars.
“Elrond, can you sing for us tonight?” Your voice is low. “For I do not trust anyone not to choose a song that will in some way infuriate our guests. They are easily enflamed, and there are little subjects that will not remind them of something that will take the shape of an insult on the morn. The Valar know I have heard enough of them today, and my patience wears thin. Sing of trees, sing of beauty, but please, no tales. Do not refer to specific incidents!”
“Was it that bad?” I feel my curiosity rise.
“Worse. I will tell you later. Oh, and if you happen to sing about stars, please refrain from naming Eärendil.”
We share slight smile, and I go to fetch my instrument, fearing this will be another long night. But I am wrong.
Although you choose not to leave his guests until all of them have retreated, and my throat is hoarse after having worn out most of my non-political repertoire, it is not yet midnight when we seek the privacy of your chambers together.
You haul a long sigh when the door shuts behind you. “Curse the stubbornness of those Sindar! If ever there were…” You stop and fling your cloak over the back of a couch, discarding more than just your garments. “If this is a courtesy visit, then I am a dwarf! I do not know what Oropher is up to, maybe if he were so good as to deign us with his presence he could tell us himself, but I know that I am nearing the point where I will inform these delegates of his that he can pack his self-righteousness and …” You release your breath audibly, let loose your clenched fists, and turn to me.
I raise my eyebrows inquisitively.
“I am sorry. You have no idea what this is about, have you?”
I hold up a hand. “I can guess.” One by one I count my fingers. “Kinslaying. Fëanor and offspring. War. Beleriand. Silmarils. And, I presume, the general depravity of the Noldor. I am out of fingers.” In spite of my light tone, a heaviness fills my heart as I name all the things that touch my mind in an unpleasant way. “Is there anything I left out?”
“Hardly. All that you mention were subjects broached.” You spread your hands and roll your eyes. “The only thing I would ask from self-proclaimed King Oropher is that he’d watch the lands on his journey and around this realm he is seeking, and that he'd trade information with us, but he seems determined to have me beg for it, mounting accusation upon insult in order to have me admit to his superiority. I have had enough of his condescendence. I have allowed him to leave without much objection to find his own place on this earth, him and his party of malcontents. What more can he ask of me?”
You sit down on the large sofa in the middle of the room and begin to unfasten the tight leather knots of your blue-and-silver tunic. As you work swiftly, your expression turns thoughtful. “As a last resort I may have to go to him myself. See if that would appease him. He declined every invitation and clearly tries to advance his point by sending off this delegation” - there is a slight contempt in your voice - ”instead of coming himself. So I could make a grand overture and arrive on his doorstep, wherever it may turn out to be, with gifts and well-wishes. Would that be humble enough for him, you think?”
You look up to me, eyes twinkling but a wry smile on your lips. Then you stretch out an arm. “Come here and sit with me.”
I walk over and, settling myself in the crook of your arm, am drawn close to your side. I feel your warmth against my skin and, as always, it makes me shiver with pleasure.
“I should not bother with this now, should I? After enjoying a whole night of your beautiful songs that left you with a sore throat.”
I look at you sideways and move closer, to let my lips seek out your cheek. “Yes, you should. I wish I could have been there," I say, more mildly than I feel.
You nuzzle my temple, your eyelashes brushing my brow. A short silence falls. “I am aware of that. But …” You hesitate and then ask, “Do you really?”
I withdraw slightly to look at you. “Yes, I do. I wish to see and listen and learn, and maybe I could be even more useful for you.” I am speaking with emphasis, trying to convey what it means to me. “I know you keep many of the politics from me on purpose. I wish you would not.”
You stare at me hard and long, but I hold your eye without blinking, until I see your look softening as you seem to come to a decision.
“All right,” you say at last. “I admit I have wanted to allow you some freedom without the full strain of duty or worry. You have had too little of that so far in the span of your life. But if you truly wish it…”
“I wish it.” I take your hand between my fingers and raise it to my lips, as if to add to my powers of persuasion that, I feel, are inadequate. Closing my eyes, I kiss the back of the long digits, one by one, until I come upon the ring on your forefinger, the one that holds the seal with the stars, and then I kiss that too - not quite in the same manner I did when I first took the oath of allegiance that now binds me to you. Turning my head a little, I press the hand to my cheek and hold it there. My eyes open and I see you gaze upon me. There is a hint of helplessness in your eyes, and something else. A blink and it is gone, and it leaves me wondering what exactly I have read in those blue eyes that now betray nothing but tenderness.
“Let us leave it for the night. Please?”
I nod, and you draw me to your breast until I turn, lift my head, and press my lips on yours. So we lie for a while, until you deepen the kiss, your arms curled firmly around my waist. Protectively. When you lay your cheek against mine, I am irked, though I do not quite know why.
I speak the first words that come into my head. “Why do you keep doing that?”
“What do I do?”
“You draw in your claws when you are with me.”
You chuckle. I feel the rumble roll through my body. “That is an amusing comparison. I am not sure what beast you think me to be.”
“A dragon, most of the time. A boar, sometimes. But not around me.”
”I would scorch you with my fire,” you tease, lazily. Your forefinger lightly follows my hairline until it catches a braid, which you wind around it. “And ruin all this beauty in a sizzle. What a waste.”
“You hold things back for me, still, and even now,” I insist, turning my head slightly and looking up at you. “Parts of yourself. Why is that?” I am not sure whether this was what I wanted to say, but I know it is the truth and I do not care for it.
“Because the world in all its beauty is dangerous and tough,” you say, simply. “Because many that occupy it have adjusted to that, and you have not. Because I would hate to see this ruined by rashness or my tendency to dominate and control. I love you. I want you to feel safe.” You look thoughtful, and your playfulness has disappeared.
When you speak again, your voice is dreamy. “Do you remember the day you walked into that courtyard and stood before me, trembling under my gaze and yet not looking away? For the most part of my years I have known this day would come, though I did not know it before that moment. We were bound together already by the promise I made to Círdan, to protect you. But when I looked you in the eye I knew that was not the only bond we’d share. To be frank, it shook me to the core to see you standing there.” You press your cheek to mine and squeeze my body for a second. There is an earnest intensity in your features that I have rarely seen before.
“Unlike you, beloved, I am no seer. I do not know the future and I have none of Galadriel’s famed foresight. I am generally only talented in making educated guesses. But I knew you as if I had always known you. I knew who you were and I knew who you would become to me. The strangest thing it was to know how I would feel about you even before I did. The glimpses I had caught of you before, at your rescue, had not told me anything about this. The young elf under the tree in the courtyard, with the light of Lúthien in his eyes and his father's darkness in his aura, your beauty, your lightness and fieriness... – this vision spoke clear to me.” Turning your face slightly, you regard me from aside, very close, and place a light kiss on the corner of my mouth.
I turn to face you, at a loss for words to reply to this confession, that touches upon mysteries I know about but cannot solve; I cannot yet decide how I feel about it. And now is not the time to challenge your perception of my fragility.
We fall asleep like this, gazing in each other's eyes until my vision blurs and the dreams take over - dreams of an endless blue ocean that pulls me to it and under, to the hidden beauties underneath the surface that glisten with lights and bright colour. In my dream I breathe and float and wonder, and the memory of another world has become distant.
When dawn breaks and the sun wakes us by a single ray that falls upon our bed, we make love. This time, you do not shield me from your heat and passion, and I am utterly captivated by it, helpless to resist anything you would ask of me.
I am not sure whether the Sindarin elf has sought me out on purpose, but on the early morning rising, after you have risen and have gone, a voice rings through the air, calling me from down below in the gardens.
“Malbeth,” I say quite formally, recognising one of Oropher's prime ambassadors I have met on their party's arrival. Tall and lean and elegant, he stands with one hand against his brow and his grey eyes slightly squinting against the sun. Having been slightly on edge when we first met I did not much like the way he studied me at our introduction, with a half-smile and open curiosity in his eyes, but I'd forgotten about it as soon as I turned my back to him.
I am standing outside of your chamber door in front of the main window, not yet dressed fully for the formalities the day will bring. Briefly I wonder what Malbeth may think of that, but then I mentally shrug. Even so, when the other begins to climb the stairs toward me, I motion him to stay and descend instead. I have no desire to have Malbeth come up and take a look into your room. This is for us, Elrond, and not for the world outside, you said. I have held to that, though I do not bear it with ease.
We exchange polite greetings. Mindful of the happenings of yesterday and what you have told me, I deem it better not to speak about their upcoming journey.
"How do you find the king's dwellings?" I ask instead.
"Master Elrond, would you care to walk with me?"
I hesitatingly accept, more for politeness than pleasure. While we walk, Malbeth tells me he is impressed with Forlindon in many words and with colourful compliments, the one even more outrageous than the other. "The masterly-crafted pinnacle of the exquisite beauties that elvendom wreaked on this magnificent earth" almost makes me snort out loud, especially when I imagine your reaction to it. I am even more amused when I briefly think about what Galadriel would make of such a compliment.
“We were interested in setting up a trade," he then says casually, to my surprise. "That was our purpose here, and we hope our quests will be fruitful.”
I say nothing to that, knowing full well that it is ridiculous, that a trade has not even been mentioned yet.
However, my silence does not discourage him, I find. “How long have you been residing here?” he asks.
“Close to a century.”
The next question follows immediately. “And does Lindon suit you?”
“As much as anything ever will.”
“You are the king’s herald, are you not?”
“No. We are related, but only distantly.”
“Noldorin family trees. I will never make them out.” He flashes an apologetic smile, but I am not quite at ease. Yet I try to remain polite.
“It is quite simple. The late High King was his great-uncle and my late father’s mother’s father.”
“I see.” Malbeth seems to think. “Your great-grandfather? He did not have any sons?”
“No. His daughter wed a man, and from their marriage my father was born.”
Malbeth nods solemnly. “Who does not know the story of Eärendil the Mariner? We are reminded of it every clear day, when night falls.”
“Then you know all there is to know,” I say, hoping to make an end to this conversation. I am never comfortable talking about my own history and now even less so, though I am not sure why.
Apparently Malbeth does not feel my reticence, or if he does, he does not regard it. After another moment of thought, he asks, “And Gil-galad had inherited the kingship from… his great-uncle?”
“Yes. He was... slain.” Now I grow impatient. How can Malbeth not know this? Even if he is one of Oropher’s circle, even if Oropher’s contempt for everything Noldorin is clear as the waters of the Great Sea, can he have been sent to Forlindon without knowing even plain and superficial facts like these? The obvious answer is no. Your words flash through my mind, your distrust. This elf is not ignorant.
I manage to keep my face even, but when the other proceeds, that is suddenly more difficult. “And now you serve him."
I feel the colour rise in my cheeks. “I do not,” I say, sharper than I intend.
“You are in his service.” Malbeth bows and picks a flower out of the border, holding it under his nose to smell. "Mmm. Beautiful."
“He is my liege. That is different. There is no speaking of servitude between us.”
The flower still in his hand and his face turned to the ground, he looks up to me from underneath his brow. I feel a momentary jolt when his eyes meet mine. His look is more keen than I have yet seen it. “But you are a lord in your own right.”
“That I am." It is nothing more than the truth, I decide. "But I am here of my free will.”
“Hm." He smiles. "Would you not wish for your own realm, someday?”
“Someday, I might.” I say, and then, “Would you?”
“Oh no. I am quite happy as I am.”
“So am I.” There is a short silence. I try to think of what he might have read in my words. Have I said too much? I have not, I think. But what is too much? What do I have to hide? And what is he after?
“Are you sworn to him?”
Curse his curiosity! Briefly I think of not answering, but this, too, is no secret. “I suppose. I have pledged my loyalty a long time ago, and I vowed to stay in Lindon or go wherever he may have need of me. ” My patience having now completely disappeared, I stop and turn to him with a frown. “Can I ask to where these questions tend?”
“Nowhere in particular.” Again that easy smile of unconcern. “Whether you know it or not, Lord Elrond, you are somewhat of a legend among our people. An enigmatic legend, for there are few who know you.”
Inward, I start. Elros' words come to me unbidden. Already you are their champion, in their eyes . But surely not to this one - Oropher's ambassador. I raise my eyebrows. “A legend? What exactly have I done to deserve that honour?”
“Allow me to be candid here.”
In spite of myself and all that has gone before, I am now more curious than irritated. “Please.”
“The Sindar are reluctant to speak of… some histories. But we are, of course, familiar with them, and we all know the history of Eärendil’s voyage and his call upon the Valar, and the choice his sons were granted. And no matter our opinions on them, you and your brother raise curiosity, to say the least. On a more base level, people are curious as to your… nature.”
I nearly choke. Shocked, I look at Malbeth, who has a twinkle in his eye.
“You are a singularity, lord Elrond. You must be aware of that.”
“I… am.” I frown, then add, “Aware of that, I mean.”
“Are you? I wonder… You are one of a rare kind. The blood of the various races and great lines runs through your veins, unmingled. Even Elu Thingol’s…” Malbeth’s voice trails off. But I have seen his sideways glance of inquiry before he casts down his bright eyes, as I am sure he intended.
Elu Thingol, the High King. It is what Elros spoke of. I do not yet know what Malbeth's play is, but I realise with a jolt I have been somehow tested, and that he has set a door ajar for me to look behind. Even if the door leads into the unknown, even if I do not trust this opaque elf before me further than I can throw him, even if I cannot like him, his probes have managed to intrigue me. It takes me a moment to realise that the main feeling I bear him now is akin to admiration for his cleverness.
I am careful not to betray any of my turmoil. “I regret I have not known him," I say lightly. "But come...” I beckon him. “...it is near time to break fast.” With a hand on his back, I steer him in the direction of the hall.
On the way down, we talk again of Lindon. Gil-galad or Thingol are not again mentioned.
That night I find it hard to rest. I go and see you, but I do not mention the conversation I had with Malbeth. I do not know why and I dare not examine my own motives. When I leave you, I do not immediately make for my own chambers. Instead I take a turn back to the Great Hall, now wholly empty, the tokens of the night’s meal cleared away and candles and lights put out. I walk up to the wall and take one of the lamps, light the oil and hold it in front of me. Slowly, I walk up to the large chair at the head of the table and seat myself.
I sit there in contemplation for a long time.
When I rise again, I run a finger over the adorned wooden seat, where twelve mithril stars are crafted in dark wood that feels cold beneath my touch. I smile, snuff the lamp, turn, and walk out to the garden to inhale the summer night.
I just learned stuff about Elvish names and found out that I have no idea why 'Ereinion' is considered somewhat of a personal name in fanon - as opposed to Gil-galad, which is more or less 'official' - as, in canon, it appears to be a name he chose for himself upon assuming the kingship. I followed fanon in this. If someone wants to enlighten me...
Another thing. The wiki at Tolkien Gateway tells me that the reason why Elrond never took up the High Kingship was that he wasn't considered eligible because he was a descendant in the female line. I'm not sure if this is anything but conjecture - citation needed, wiki! - but if it isn't I say fie to that. The Númenoreans, who were by all accounts men more evolved for the strong influences of the elves upon their culture and lives, did have queens, even if only in the absence of a male heir. And the elves would be more rigid about this, even when it came to someone very much deserving? It's illogical and I can't imagine. So I won't.
Elrond's story, continued. We'll travel with him for a while yet.
In the weeks that follow I find myself restless. I do not speak to Malbeth again, except for a few words of courtesy at dinners and at council meetings, which I now attend at your invitation, though invitations come yet sparsely. But whenever we sit at that large table in the Great Hall, I at your right hand and Malbeth at a place of honour amidst Oropher's emissaries, I feel his gaze upon me more than once. I try not to look up, but when I do he invariably nods at me, almost imperceptibly, his icy grey eyes dancing in the multitude of lights and never leaving mine. Once he slowly raises his hand, touches his forehead and lowers his hand to touch his heart in a gesture of respect. I immediately drop my eyes, then quickly look around to confirm that no one but I has perceived what he did. I wonder if he is mocking me.
I still do not know what his business is with me, but he unsettles me in ways that I trust not to confide to anyone - not even you. There is a defiance in him that I do not understand, an unspoken dare, and until I know what it entails I will not answer it.
But Malbeth is not the only reason for my unrest. I cannot put your words out of my mind, describing our first true meeting.
I remember it well. Those first tumultuous days, after we were ripped from what had been our home and Círdan brought us to this land, made a lasting impression on my mind. The uncertainty. The many strangers. They did not understand. Most of them wished us well - those that spoke to us and did not hurry away when we entered a room with something akin to fear in their eyes - and were expecting us to rejoice in being among our own again, but I could feel nothing but sadness at what we had left behind. This, I knew, I could not share with anyone, except Elros. He and I would not speak of Maglor, but I knew he felt the same. Then there were those who expressed their hate at the brothers within our earshot. Invariably they would be surprised an bemused when we would not join in their scorn.
I mostly kept to my allotted rooms, trying to spin a thread of clarity out of all that had happened. And then one day an elf came to me with a request from you, to meet you in your private courtyard. In your dwellings your name was on everyone's lips, but we had not yet seen you since our arrival as you'd been travelling far and wide. Now you were back and wanted to see me.
If I had any expectations of you, few of them were met. Maglor had spoken of you with all the hatred of someone who was aware that his own actions had made it impossible for his admiration to be requited, though I did not understand him then. Maedhros... No, I do not want to speak of him. He had few good words for anyone but the few around him.
No, I did expect something: for you to be surrounded by courtiers and quite - though I had not encountered much of it - some pomp and circumstance. But when I entered, all I found was one elf: a tall figure dressed in a bright blue cloak strewn with threads of silver, with his back turned to me. In sharp contrast to the rest of the court the courtyard was quiet, a tiny haven of silence underneath a tangled roof of vines and flowers that filled the thick, warm air with their fragrance. I didn't make a sound and tried not to disrupt. Instead I took the opportunity to study you. You stood leaning against the wall, one arm up, your forehead resting on your clenched fist, and seemed not to have heard me. Though your downward-turned face was hidden behind a curtain of hair as dark as night which, too, was threaded with silver, I saw tension in your whole posture. Nothing except those silver threads betrayed that you were, indeed, the king.
I would do best to hide my nerves, I had decided. You were king here. You had our fate in your hands, mine and Elros', and we were at your mercy, whoever you turned out to be. Trying to steady myself I drew a deep breath, shifted my weight to both feet, squared my shoulders and lifted my chin - exactly as Maedhros had taught us. "No matter how small you feel, stand great, and few will treat you with disdain." He'd said it often, as if it was the most valuable life lesson he could teach us.
It was then that you turned your head, looked up from between your hair and noticed me. With a sudden catlike movement you straightened until your whole body had changed, standing tall and graceful, all tension gone from your limbs and back. Your blue eyes lit up, and your smile was blinding, the transformation as warming as the first rays of the summer sun after a clear night in the mountains. For at least a minute you just studied me silently. I did not blink. When you finally spoke your voice was as warm as your smile, a low velvety baritone . "Your presence here is like a miracle to us, youngest son of Eärendil. You and your brother's both. Wherever we will build our home now, I hope you will regard it yours." With long strides you approached me, and you unceremoniously laid your hands on my shoulders.
I felt myself responding to you almost uncontrollably - not just to your words, but to your closeness and the light in your face. It was only later that I learned that you had this effect on many. I smiled back, and my breath left my body in a sigh. With it went my apprehension, to make place for a new kind of anticipation and excitement. I was welcome, and life could be grand at the court of one so dazzling.
I did not say much that first afternoon, sitting next to you on the bench in that courtyard. You asked me many questions. You asked after our journey, Elros, my likes and dislikes and - after kindly inquiring whether I was inclined to talk about them - my parents. You even asked me of Maglor and Maedhros in a manner more friendly than any I had encountered before, though it was not a subject that any of us would dwell on at this time. I answered you in few syllables, but I basked in your warmth. I felt slightly dizzy, and excited, to be the sole object of such lavish attention so unexpectedly. I'd met friendliness in my life and some tenderness, but never before undivided interest.
If it was love I felt I did not recognise it yet or know it. But you had, you said. And now I wonder why. What quality did you perceive in me? Who was I to captivate you so? You think you need him, but he needs you, and it is not for reasons of the heart, Elros said. Regardless of there being any truth in that, I know you did not lie to me. There was no deception in your confessions - there is no deception in you - and they seem to strengthen the foundation for the choice I made to follow you, despite my own misgivings followed from the doubts Elros instilled in me. They speak of mysteries, and, as I well know, the source of mysteries is with the Valar. Find your own path, Elrond, and follow it to the end of the earth, if necessary, Elros said also. This may be my path - fate may have laid its claim to me. How can I refuse it? But the road may be winding, and it may be long...
Thus my thoughts are occupied when I am not near you, and you know nothing of them. When we are together, however, you are all I can think about. Your voice, your smile, your touch, your love. In those stolen moments - for stolen they are and few the times when we can be truly alone - you overwhelm me more than ever before. You are fierce, and have turned so expressive in your love that your presence leaves little room for anything else in my mind.
And so it happens that the day before Oropher's ambassadors are set to leave and we ride out with them to prepare for their departure, I am distracted. I ride at the back of the party, leaving it to you and others to entertain our Sindarin guests at the front. Alatindo, my horse, is excited to be out, but after a few calming words and touches I leave her to her dancing and high-pitched calls. I am glad that the party is leaving. The outright hostility of those first days has never truly abated, but instead turned into a simmering tension, to the point where you have exasperatedly declared, when in private, that there is nothing else to be done and we should simply consider the meetings unsuccessful. "I will have to see to it later, Elrond," you said when we were alone one morning. "This does not go anywhere. Perhaps I should go with my earlier plan and meet them again in several years, when they are settled and moods are better." After what basically constituted as your withdrawal from the proceedings, very little of consequence has been spoken of.
Off my guard as I am, I do not immediately notice when someone manoeuvres his horse next to mine. "Lord Elrond." It is Malbeth. Of course.
I nod and lay my hand on Alatindo's flank, pretending to be busy with calming her so that I don’t have to look at him.
“Now that we are about to take our leave, I want to tell you that I have enjoyed our... conversations."
"Thank you," I say simply, not correcting him on the fact that there has only been one to speak of.
"I..." He pauses. "I hope you will take it as the compliment I intend to pay you when I say how much you remind me of your mother."
Immediately my head shoots up. My heart skips a beat and my mouth turns dry. With a slight tremble in my voice I say, “You knew my mother?”
Malbeth throws me a wistful smile. "Yes."
"You have lived in Arvernien, then?"
“Yes. I was young, but I remember her well. My family returned east well before the War, but her face is ever clear in my memory. All loved her, and so did I.”
I do a quick reckoning. "Returned... "
He nods, reading recognition on my face. "I was born in Doriath's woods. When your mother fled before the sons of Fëanor, my sister and I were with her host, as were my parents."
In the silence that follows my thoughts race, and I am struggling to keep my composure. My mother. I have so few clear memories of her. The way she danced through our house. The turn of her throat and the softness of her hands. Her decisiveness. This strange, disquieting elf has known her, perhaps longer than I. She'd been but a child when she came to Arvernien, bereft of her parents. And he can’t have been much older than she.
In a fluid motion Malbeth turns in the saddle and lays his hand on my arm, looking me straight in the eye with an apologizing look. “My lord, I am afraid I have discomfited you.” Suddenly his use of the title strikes me. I wonder why it escaped me earlier. "I should not have said anything. Please tell me to keep my tongue if I offend you with my remembrances.”
I regard him sharply. "Why have you not spoken of this before?"
He shrugs. "I was uncertain. I did not mean to be inappropriate. But I thought... You may want to hear how she lives on in other people's memories."
"I know few who knew her, and no one who was there when... I..." I hesitate. "You have not offended me," I say, with some effort. "But I do not wish to speak of this any further at this time.”
He nods and we are silent once more, the clip-clop of horse’s hooves the only sound that reaches my ears. My mind is in a whirl. Speak to him about my mother. Ask questions about her. I try out the thought in my mind, attempting to find how I feel about it. What do I want to know? Everything... But he cannot give me her smell, or her touch, or the sound of her voice singing. Alatindo is dancing to the side again and Malbeth’s horse whinnies at her, but I pay them little attention.
"How do I remind you of her?" I say quietly, breaking the silence. I don't look at him, but I feel his eyes turn to me.
"You resemble her, of course. That cannot be news to you. Both dark, with the same keen grey eyes, lean body and long limbs. But you also share a quick wit and passion, even while you may appear guarded." He pauses. "And kindness. She was so very kind." I almost cannot hear his last words. "I am sorry, my lord, I let my memories get the better of me. I remember those days with fondness, despite the sadness that precluded them."
"Do no apologize for that, Malbeth, or for the reminiscence of beautiful times," I say, still evading his eyes.
"She was a great lady, with a great mind. Her capacity to see was endless, and her courage... I need not remind you of her courage, I think. "
I do not know how to respond to that without betraying some bitterness. Wasn't it her courage that led her to abandon us?
He is speaking softly again, looking at his hands on the reigns. "Yes, you are very like her. And she was like her father. "
Again I am startled. "Do you remember him?"
"But slightly. I have seen him, and it is hard to forget the sight of the king with the stone glowing on his breast. He was younger than you are now. My parents were in his service and told me many things about him. Afterwards they could not forget him, or the days of the splendour of Menegroth. I was happy in Arvernien, but their longing for the east was too strong. So they took us away again, to wander in empty and often dangerous lands. In the end it was fortunate, because we suffered little from the war.” He shrugs and smiles crookedly. “And here I am. Speaking to the second-born son of one who used to be my friend."
I am so desperately trying to digest what he has just told me that I nearly miss it. Dior, the young king. Dior and the Silmaril. My mother's flight to the Mouths of Sirion. My mother, who was Malbeth's friend. But then a thought strikes me and I sit up straight. "Malbeth. There was never a need for your questions the other day,” I say. “You knew everything about me. You knew my grandfather, who was halfelven, like me. The Valar know, you may have known my whole family better than I ever did. You always knew exactly who I was - intimately."
"Yes, I did." His voice is surprisingly calm. "I have loved your mother and lived with her image clear in my mind for most of my life. My parents' longing for the days of the king in Doriath has taken me where I am now.” He shifts in the saddle and looks at me sideways. “But I do not know you, Lord Elrond, and I dearly wish to."
"You tried to gauge me."
"I tried to gauge you."
"To what end?"
"I will leave that for you to decide."
Suddenly I feel trapped. The precise nature of the trap Malbeth has sprung for me I cannot discern, but the connection I felt with him for a moment disappears like smoke in the wind. I grab the reigns tighter, causing Alatindo to jump. "I am not sure I want to know." And with that, I lean forward and spur her on into a gallop.
I catch your surprised look when I pass you, but I do not slow down, even when I create a small ruckus behind me. Instead I let Alatindo run freely, leaving Malbeth and, hopefully, my own inner turbulence behind.
You appear to believe me when I say I just wanted to have a quick run, though you playfully admonish me for creating a stir.
But that night, in our makeshift bed in your tent, you ask, “Was there anything specific that made you run, Elrond?” We are lying next to each other and you are loosely playing with my hair. “I cannot blame you for trying to escape the gathering clouds around our guests, honestly. And if they are not angry, they can be truly dull.”
The words burst out of me. “Malbeth knew my mother. He says they were friends, in Arvernien.”
“Ah.” You slowly turn to face me, your eyes lighting up with kindness. “And was that the reason for your appearing so discombobulated? Did he tell you about her?”
“Yes. And he said I am like her.”
A thoughtful expression appears on your face. “That was a compliment, I think?”
“Yes. But he knew her, Ereinion.” I sit up, shaking off your hands. “Better than I ever did. And he....”
I sigh, gazing unseeing into the darkness that is broken only by tiny flickerings of the candles we have lit beside the bed. “He remembered Dior, and the stone. He was there when my mother fled for the Fëanorians. He befriended her, even. He knows my family more closely than I ever did.” It sounds bitter, even in my ears.
“Oh, Elrond.” You sit up too and put an arm around my shoulder, gathering me close. I lay my head on your shoulder. Your voice is gentle in my ear, and you place a quick kiss on my temple. “You have lost so much in such a short life. I tend to forget that and I am sorry that I do. It is no wonder that you have been shaken up by Malbeth’s tales.”
I kiss you quickly, more relieved than I can say that you understand. Then I lay back and gaze at the roof of the tent, one hand on your hip. “He asked me questions. He says he wants to know me, but...” I shrug. “I can’t make him out. I am not sure I trust him or his motives regarding me.”
“It could be that he is longing for the past, Elrond. Many are. When he sees you, he might...” You pause, thinking. “He might want to see Dior, or even Elu Thingol, remembering the days of greatness for the Sindar. It is possible that it has little to do with you.”
In spite of myself I feel stung. “You speak as if the days of the Sindar are over.”
“No. But they are shattered, leaderless. Oropher won’t unite them.”
Rolling over, I rest my head on my hand to look at you. “And you?”
Your laugh sounds harsh. “When the Helceraxë melts, maybe. There are so many that don’t trust me, Elrond, and I doubt they ever will. Malbeth may be among them. Oropher definitely is, and all that go with him.”
“But...” I hesitate, not quite knowing how to phrase my question. “Couldn’t I help?”
You lift your hand to touch my hair, your eyes soft when they look at me. “You are already helping, just by being with me. That matters to people who hold steadfast to the allegiances of old, to their lieges, to Thingol and Dior.”
“But...” I struggle to find the words. “I could do more. They are my people too, Ereinion. I belong to the Sindar as much as the Noldor.”
“I never knew you felt that way."
“I see.” Underneath my fingertips I feel your body tense, and you draw your eyebrows together.
“It does not mean that I would... I do not want to live anywhere where you are not.”
“Good. Because I don’t want to lose you, and especially not to a band of wayward Sindar." You lay back again and smile at me, but I stay serious. "But know that your presence here is important not just to me. ”
“And yet I want to know them, Ereinion. I think I should. There may be more like Malbeth. People who knew my family."
“Very well. Perhaps I should take you with me when it comes to that.”
I pause, then say quietly, “I think I should perhaps go alone.“
Immediately you sit up. “Are you in earnest?"
“Yes, I think I am.”
You face turns wooden. Your eyes lock with mine, and I read a silent fury in them that takes me aback, but I feel more determined than I have ever felt before.
Many events have confirmed the truth in Elros' words, now years ago. Whether he was right about everything, about you, is a question I decide not to explore, not yet. But one thing I do know: I am not a pawn, and I am not going to be one. I will decide my own fate. The urge spurring me on now is a powerful one. I am not quite sure when I made the decision to leave and seek out my mother's people, but it has been a long time in the making. At this moment I have only one certainty: I need to do this.
But I see in your whole posture that I am about to meet your resistance, and that it will be formidable.
Your next words confirm it. “I do not want to let you go. I’m not too keen on sharing you. Especially not with Oropher and his ilk.”
“They are not 'ilk' and they are my people too, Ereinion.” I try to sound as reasonable as I can.
“Yes. I guess they are.” But if I think you are relenting, I am wrong. “Tell me, Elrond, what else has Malbeth told you? Has he spun you tales of greatness, of Dior and his jewel? Did he show you an image of what might be, you with a jewel on your breast and a crown on your head? Because that will never be.”
The unfairness of that statement makes me suck in my breath. It does not even deserve a denial, and I do not feel particularly inclined to give you one. "Even if I were to wish such things, why are you so sure it won't be?" I ask, rigidly.
"You pledged allegiance to the Noldor, and Oropher’s people won’t have it. You pledged allegiance to the High King, and I won’t have it. “
"And am I to understand that, since you hold that power over me, you will decide everything that is to be in my future?"
"By the Valar, yes!"
I have seen you do this: conclude long, meandering discussions with a few precise and unequivocal words that effectively leaves no doubt about who holds the power and, without exception, ends them. Your words hang between us. Your resistance I thought I could handle with reason, but your misconceptions about my motives and feelings are almost too much for me. Suddenly the tent we lie in feels constricting. Without looking at you I stand up and walk towards the entrance. But when I hear you speak again, my legs halt their movement.
“Elrond. I did not mean that. But..." You pause. "I don’t want to lose you. You are all that I have that is truly mine, and I need you close by me. Forever.”
Softly I say, without moving, “I don’t want to leave you either.”
Slowly I turn. You are sitting up straight and are looking at me seriously and somewhat pleading. As always the sight of you sends a thrill through me. "Believe me when I say that I will return. I would not want to be separated from you too long. But I need to get to know my people. My other people," I correct quickly, when I see you frown again.
Though I still feel the pain of your utter misjudgement of me, I slowly walk back to our bed and sit down beside you. I put my hand on one cheek and press my lips to the other. As I have done so many times before, you lean into my touch and I feel something shift. My mouth moves from your cheek to your lips, and I initiate a kiss that starts slow but deepens suddenly when you hungrily claim me. Heat flashes, and you draw me on top of you.
In between kisses you put your lips to my ear and whisper, “You can go with Malbeth, if you so wish. Go and visit your own. But return to me. I will not sleep until you sleep next to me.”
The urgency in my body doesn't leave much space for relief at your words. I have begun to move my hips against yours unwittingly. Gasping I manage to say, “Promise me one thing.”
“If I can.”
Bodily demand matches emotional demand, and I feel tears threaten to spill. “Don’t marry.”
Underneath me you still, and your words are soft against my lips. “Elrond, please understand. I would marry you if I could. I would promise my life to you if I could. But I can’t."
I know this. I have always known this. But I didn't want you to say it, not at this moment. I close my eyes. "Then don't marry while I'm gone."
"I promise." Your hands are everywhere on my body, as if they try to map out every curve, every angle of my body. "Though it will not be soon, I will have to marry, one day. And I hope I will not lose you when I do. ” Your hips press against mine as if to underscore your words.
I try to breath slowly, but I feel I am losing myself to you. “Unfair as it may sound when you have just made me a promise, I cannot promise that." I open my eyes and read love in your eyes - and possessiveness, which I am ready to answer to. "But I will vow to you that I will never do the same.”